Two minutes after taking off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on a frigid January afternoon in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was struck by a flock of geese, instantly disabling the plane’s engines. Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III radioed air traffic control, seeking an open runway to land the Airbus A320.
As Sullenberger looked for a place to put the plane down, first officer Jeffrey B. Skiles immediately consulted a checklist on how to restart the stalled engines. Skiles’ action showed how ingrained the checklist is in the culture of aviation, where it has been in use for more than 70 years.
Sullenberger successfully ditched the plane in the Hudson River. Then, outstanding application of emergency protocols helped the flight crew successfully evacuate the plane, saving the lives of all 155 people on board — another dramatic example of how aviation’s approach to safety yielded results that winter day.
Long before Sullenberger’s role in “the miracle on the Hudson” landed him on America’s front pages, he had been advising health care organizations on how to apply aviation’s safety lessons in medicine. His consulting group, Safety Reliability Methods Inc., is one of many firms offering aviation-based training to health care organizations eager to achieve the industry’s safety record.
“The risk of accidental death in a jet aircraft from 1967 to 1976 was 1 in 2 million,” Sullenberger noted in a speech in March to health IT professionals. “Today, it is 1 in 10 million. After 75 years, we in aviation have benefited from lessons learned at great cost — literally bought in blood — lessons we now offer up to the medical field for the taking.”
For more than a decade, doctors and hospitals have sought to learn from their counterparts in aviation. Checklists, structured communication techniques, preoperative briefings, error reporting and simulator training are just a few of the aviation safety methods they have tried to implement in the world of medicine.
However, adapting aviation’s techniques to health care has not been easy, patient safety experts say. Inherent differences between the two industries have made it a challenge to learn from aviation’s safety experience.
The whole shebang.