How Aviation Improves Medical Safety
Why lessons learned from aviation psychology are starting to save lives in hospitals.
The human brain is fallible. In emergency situations it can be easily overloaded with information or be unable to override social rules of hierarchy and deference. This can have disastrous consequences, particularly in scenarios like aeroplane failures or surgical emergencies.
On 27 March 1977 one of the deadliest ever air crashes happened in Tenerife, killing 583 people. There was nothing technically wrong with either plane involved in the collision. The overriding factor was found to be the authority gradient in the cockpit of one plane with the high status captain overruling the co-pilot who thought they were not cleared for take-off. This was a game changing event for the airline industry.
Claudia Hammond investigates how years of research in aviation psychology have made events like that a rarity and have given rise to huge improvements in understanding human behaviour and how mistakes are made so deathly disasters can be prevented. The world of aviation has embraced a so called 'just culture' where reporting errors and near misses are encouraged to prevent a similar mistake turning into a disaster in the future. But what has medicine learned from aviation psychology and how close is it to a similar just culture?
Surgical check lists have been introduced to try and prevent errors like operating on the wrong limb and making sure teams communicate with one another. But how effective are they and could surgery learn more from aviation about the psychology of safety and being open about errors to prevent them in the future?
Photo: Aeroplane cockpit. Credit: Getty Images/Miguel Villagran;