Just Like the Airline Industry, Safety Has to be Non-negotiable in Healthcare

Even if this means it inconveniences doctors, nurses, and even patients.

I travel quite a bit for work. For the most part, it runs smoothly. There are times, however, where it does not. Recently, I was traveling to one of our practice sites in the morning. The plan was to take the first flight out, have meetings during the day at my sites, and then fly home same day. 

I planned, and then God laughed.

The first flight got delayed initially because the incoming flight was delayed. Then, at the gate, when I still had hope to leave relatively soon, the plane had a maintenance issue and we had to change planes. 

Everyone was frustrated, and I must admit so was I. This whole delay disrupted my entire day, and I was already on a tight schedule because I was flying home the same day. I had to miss some meetings. 

Yet, the reason for the delay was that there was a maintenance issue, and this maintenance issue could place the safety of the passengers and crew at risk. This was a nonstarter. 

Better be late than risk the safety of people on an airline. Better cancel the flight altogether, like for bad weather, than risk loss of life and limb. Better I miss a meeting than never show up to that meeting or go back home ever again. 

Yes, it can frustrate passengers, and the airlines do have an obligation to help their passengers (their clients essentially) when their travel plans get disrupted. Still, safety is absolutely essential and no shortcuts can ever be made. 

Would that Healthcare have the same attitude. The airline industry has some of the best safety records in the world. It may not be as well known that it is much safer to fly than drive. This is because the airline industry never compromises on safety. We need to be the same in Healthcare. 

There are thousands upon thousands of medical errors that occur each and every year. Many of these errors can cause significant harm to patients. And when these errors are examined critically, too often the safety checks that were in place were bypassed in order to save time or assuage an angry or upset patient or family member.

This should never occur. 

Yes, I get very frustrated with the stops and safety checks my EMR places in front of me (that dreaded stop sign in Epic gives me PTSD). And sometimes it doesn’t make sense from a clinical perspective. 

But they are in place for the sake of my patients’ safety. That should make me patient with them. What if that patient who gets harmed by a medical error is my family? What if they are my child? I would be devastated to learn that safety measures were bypassed. 

Yes, flight delays can be terribly frustrating – especially those for maintenance and safety issues (why didn’t they figure them out sooner?). But they are there to make sure we get to our destinations safely. If we die because of a safety issue that was ignored, no vacation or work meetings will occur…permanently. In fact, I was able to write this article because my flight delay gave me time to reflect about this. 

At the same time, every time I travel I pray to the Lord this: “Lord, take me to my destination safely and on time.” Most of the time, it goes without a hitch. However, the “safely” part comes will always come at the expense of the “on time” part. I thank God for that, and we need to be better at it with the patients entrusted to our care. 


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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballahttp://drhassaballa.com
Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa is a NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine specialist in clinical practice for over 20 years. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine. He is a prolific writer, with dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and medical blog posts. He is a Physician Leader and published author. His latest book is "Code Blue," a medical thriller.
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