MDG learns to fly

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- This is part two of a five-part series on patient safety.

Safety is one of the Air Force's primary concerns, but in a career field where a simple mistake could mean the end to someone's life, it is a necessity.

For almost a decade, personnel from the 366th Medical Group, along with civilian counterparts, have incorporated safety practices learned from the ultra-efficient aviation community.

"We want to learn from the progress the flying community has made," said Marcia Vondran Lutz, 366th MDG patient safety manager. "They've made great strides in safety improvements."

A few methods healthcare is taking from the flying world are their polished communication techniques.

"We want to use the same approach aviation uses," said Vondran Lutz. "If one person has information that another doesn't, we want our staff to speak up. Everyone on the team is involved in the safe care of the patient."

Other refined aerial practices medicine has commandeered include using checklists, standardized language, huddles and simulations.

"Aviation figured this out a long time ago, and in medicine we can learn from their example to make care safer for our patients, said Vondran Lutz. "We aren't reinventing the wheel; we are taking the best practices aviation has already pioneered."

Due to preventable mistakes in the past, medical centers nationwide looked to find a solution.

Vondran Lutz stated, the Institute of Medicine report in 1999 estimated that up to 98,000 people per year die through preventative medical errors.

"Medicine is facing the fact that we are in the same situation aircraft safety was in several years ago," explained Maj. Darren Pittard, 366th women's health clinic flight commander. "In some ways we were a society where the physicians were seen as the ultimate in decision-making and were not to be questioned. What we have deployed are processes allowing us to demand safety from everyone involved, not just the physician."

The innovative concept of everyone providing valuable input is new to Air Force and civilian healthcare providers.

"It is easier for us to translate these concepts because we have a lot closer relationship with the flying community, but this isn't just a culture shift in the Air Force, it's a culture shift in healthcare overall," said Bernd Wegner, 366th nurse manager of the family health clinic.

Assimilating safety procedures that have been tried and tested by the aviation community has proven worthwhile.

"It's crucial to adopt these concepts because when we achieve standardization across the board it will be tremendous," said Pittard. "Then, any place you go will use the exact same process, ensuring everything gets accomplished."

Members of the MDG appreciate the fact that learning and implementing these ideas from the flying community benefits everyone.

"As staff, we come to work every day wanting to provide the best quality and safest care we can, and now we are able to feel confident that when we take care of our patients here, we are doing it based on the best available standards," said Pittard.