Wanted Urgently: ‘Human Skills’ in health care

In a New York Times article this week, it was reported that the airline industry is at its safest since the dawn of the jet age. In the last five years, the death risk for airline passengers in the U.S. has been one in 45 million flights. There are several reasons for this and according to the Chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the airline industry now has a “much more proactive approach to safety.”

Let’s compare this to the level of safety in the Health Care Industry where over 200,000 people die of preventable deaths each year. This is equivalent to 20 large jet liners crashing every week with no survivors. Why no major fuss? It’s because many people in the Health Care Industry consider these 200,000 deaths to be inevitable and there is a lack of public awareness of these figures.

Captain Sully Sullenberger, among others, has called for an independent agency, similar to that of the National safety-firstTransportation Safety Agency, to be set up for the Health Care Industry. It would be an excellent idea to have an independent agency monitor medical concerns, similar to the NTSB, an agency that is non-disciplinary, where problems could be raised and shared, where formal lessons could be learned. We believe this would prevent many needless deaths.

Captain Sullenberger speaks to the need for physician and medical professionals to be taught “human skills.” He defines human skills as leadership, as creating a culture of team building, as sharing input, as sharing a sense of responsibility and as sharing the feeling among a team that each member, regardless of their position, has a role in a patient’s care thereby maintaining an open channel of communication.

Rory Staunton’s death was preventable. Tragically, there was no open channel of communication in place during the tragic sequence of events that led to his death.

We have to learn from Rory’s tragic death. Safety begins in the boardroom with the Board of Trustees and administrators. It is they that can build a culture of trust and change. What is needed is a real culture of trust, not a pretend culture. There are many islands of good care but these islands need to have less water in between them.

Greater public awareness of these problems and better leadership is urgently required. In a recent interview, Captain Sullenberger says that the problem is systemic, huge and immediate. We agree.