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Lourdes Brings NASA Developed Pilot Safety Skills to the Operating Room

Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center closed its operating room for a day-long “cockpit training” session with an internationally recognized physician and former NASA astronaut to create safer, more efficient practices modeled after the airline industry.

Patient safety expert, James Bagian, MD, led the training which included all OR physician and nursing staff. The session educated staff members on teamwork and communication exercises, checklist development, “read and verify” approaches, briefing and de-briefing methods and techniques for challenging one another regarding safety risks. The training session centered around patient safety with a focus on reducing errors in the OR.

Lourdes, a member of Catholic Health East, a multi institutional Catholic health system, was selected to pilot the training for the organization’s 34 hospitals because of its leadership position in patient safety, high OR volume and variety of complex surgeries performed there. “This program will help us focus better on patient safety. That’s the ultimate goal,” said John Radomski, MD, chief of general surgery at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and one of the event’s planners.

The roots of the pilot training program date back 30 years to the concept of finding causes for airline crashes. Convinced of the program’s effectiveness in reducing risk and increasing patient safety and satisfaction, Dr. Bagian helped develop the Medical Team Training program at the Veterans Health Administration. “We’re trying to give the patient good care that is high quality and safe,” he said. Studies show that surgical deaths dropped 18 percent and complications reduced 17 percent in hospitals that underwent the pilot safety training compared to those that had not.

According to Dr. Bagian, all staff members,from technicians to surgeons,need to be “active participants” in the operating room, not being afraid to ask questions or speak up when they believe something might be wrong. “There’s always been a hierarchal structure in the operating room. It relates to the old adage that the surgeon is the captain of the ship. To some extent that’s true, but each individual in the OR is responsible,” said Dr. Radomski. “Everyone has to have buy-in. This will result in better outcomes and more of a culture of patient safety.”

Dr. Bagian advocates the use of checklists and pre and postoperation briefings as tools to improve communications. Besides verifying patient information, the checklists can help make sure resources are in place before an operation. Consequently, over the next several months, Lourdes staff will develop checklists and processes that could be used not just at Lourdes hospitals but across CHE in a continuous effort to deliver a higher level of safety, quality and care to its patients.

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