Health care and the airline industry have a lot in common

There are many apt comparisons to be made between aviation and health care. As a (lapsed) instrument-rated pilot, I may have some insight about the system in which planes function on a daily basis in the United States. It is truly an impressive system which is (to paraphrase Don Berwick) well-designed to achieve the safety results that it does. However, the kind of statement that some health care safety leaders make in which they compare the raw mortality rates of acute hospital care and airline fatal accident rates is not so apt.

Let me see if I can explain why.

First, just to be clear, I have no illusions that we have a long way to go in optimizing the safety of medical care. I am a vocal advocate for transparent safety culture and adequate resource allocation for patient, staff and family safety. But we don’t do anyone any favors by sensationalizing and mischaracterizing where the problems are.

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