Healthcare Policy January 14, 2024

Were the Japan and Alaska Airlines Safety Incidents Miracles?

by Barry P Chaiken, MD

We think of miracles as outcomes we have no control over. The safe return of the passengers on the Japan Airlines crash and the Alaska Airlines depressurization are not miracles in the typical way we think of them. They were miracles of “regulation, training, expertise, effort, and constant improvement of infrastructure.”

When we think of healthcare miracles, we think of newly created medications or never-before surgeries using cutting-edge tools. Unfortunately, healthcare rarely experiences the miracles that aviation witnesses every day.

We must take strides to create a no-fault patient safety reporting system that allows all healthcare staff to report suspected errors without punishment and have that data studied before we can create a healthcare delivery system properly focused on patient safety, quality outcomes, and reducing unnecessary costs. Rather than collect and use data to improve patient safety, we use malpractice lawsuits that limit our knowledge of safety hazards, fail to compensate those harmed adequately, and never prevent harm before it occurs.

Healthcare’s current approach to safety applied to aviation would establish a system that financially pays the families of those killed in air crashes instead of saving the lives of their loved ones. If this makes no sense for commercial aviation, why do we take this approach in healthcare?

Source: The Truth About Airline Safety, NY Times, January 9, 2024

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