Have you ever taken off in an aircraft without your seat belt on? Chances are never, unless you have sneakily opened it after the final checks have been completed by the cabin crew. Though a mundane task, which the flight savvy population by now are already adhering to, you will still never miss the airline staff making their rounds, checking every passenger has their seat belts on. It takes them around 5 minutes to do a quick visual check, and despite demanding customers, several tasks to be completed before readying for take-off, they never skip this routine. Why? Because a Seat Belt can save a passenger from grievous harm in case of severe turbulence or any other casualty.
We have several equivalents of a ‘Seat Belt’ in the Healthcare industry, with ‘TIME – OUT’ beign one such example. It’s the difference between a safe and unsafe surgical practice. Just a couple of minutes spent doing a Time -Out will prevent wrong patient, wrong site and wrong surgery. If this simple check can prevent such grievous outcomes, why are many Operating Room team still reluctant to do this religiously? Is overconfidence and reliance on others down the line making surgeons reluctant to follow the practice?
Often, the airline industry outcomes are looked up to in the healthcare industry, their safety norms are lauded. But the truth is, the healthcare industry is not far behind in safety protocols. The industry has tools and techniques to make the environment and processes safe for the patients. Tools like the WHO’s Safe Surgery Checklist is a key example of the same. However, there is one thing that differentiates the Healthcare industry leading to higher safety incidents, and that is the attitude towards these tools and techniques.
When an airline accident happens, the breaches in safety protocols are broadcast on media for all to know. In contrast, in healthcare, such breaches are often not known beyond the treating or operating teams. With teams who have harmed a patient due to negligence not coming forward and talking about it, these is a false perception that these occurrences are rare. This sets forth a cyclical process where the healthcare teams are unaware of the possibility of mistakes due to negligence until it is one of their own cases. Hence learning from others mistakes does not happen as frequently as it should. Not many doctors come forth and say – “I missed doing a sponge count resulting in a re-exploration”. More openness in sharing of information on near misses and incidents can mean the real statistics on the possibilities would emerge, resulting in better adherence to safety protocols.
For healthcare to reach high levels of safety, we need to pay attention to all the ‘seat-belts’ in our system and be open to share consequences of negligence. Together these two things could help propel us towards a safer hospital.