Aviation and medicine both require professionals to hold peoples' lives in their hands. Now, study findings hint that hospitals may improve patient safety by drawing on aviation-type safety initiatives.

When medicine turns its eyes to the sky, patient safety on the ground may improve, Dr. Harry C. Sax, at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, noted in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

Pre-flight checklists and non-punitive incident reporting are measures that significantly minimize aviation accidents, Sax and colleagues point out in the Archives of Surgery.

In their study, they assessed how hospital staff at a 722-bed university hospital and a 247-bed community hospital implemented and felt about similar safety initiatives.

The hospitals trained a total of 857 hospital staff with the Lessons from the Cockpit training course as one of their safety initiatives. The course highlights team safety-enhancing efforts used in aviation and how similar efforts may have benefit in other industries.

Immediate post-training surveys revealed that staff were more willing to commit themselves to team efforts to improve patient safety and to effectively confront their own mistakes and those of other technicians, nurses, and physicians.

Additional surveys, completed a minimum of 2 months after training, hinted that staff maintained their sense of personal empowerment in regards to patient safety initiatives, Sax commented in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

Sax and colleagues also found that use of pre-surgery checklists increased from 75 percent in 2003 to 100 percent in 2007 in hospitals that utilized the training course.

Moreover, the community hospital that additionally implemented a Web-based, self-reporting incident and error system modeled after the non-punitive Aviation Safety Reporting System administered by the National Air and Space Administration, saw a marked increase in staff self-reporting of errors.

Per-quarter, self-reports of errors and incidents increased from 709 in 2002 to 1,481 in 2008.

The researchers continue to collect information to better determine which aspects of the course maintain their impact over one-year and which specific measures yield the most benefit in terms of increased patient safety.

SOURCE: Archives of Surgery, December 2009