"Physical therapy is not a subspecialty of the medical profession and physical therapists are not medical doctors; we are a separate profession that provides a unique service that physicians are unable and untrained to provide."

Letter to the AMA from the APTA, Dec 2009

Monday, February 28, 2011

What Can Healthcare Learn from Airlines 81% error rate?

Healthcare providers, administrators and policymakers can take heart from the airlines lessons learned...

Front page news in USA Today February 25th is the jump in all airports' error rate reported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 2007 to 2010.

Error rate is defined as military, private planes and commercial planes that got too close together in mid-flight or on the runway.

Don't cancel your flight reservations yet, however. You wont have to pack the kids into the minivan for the annual summer trip to the beach.

The skies are not getting less safe...

This jump is the result of better reporting and increased transparency in airline safety, says the FAA.
"Just being open and getting these reports out is the best way to move forward," says Steven Hansen, safety chairman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union.

"We're not going to know what to fix unless we know what it is.
We need the information reported."
Healthcare policymakers have been trying to build safety into the health system since the 2001 Crossing the Quality Chasm identified that 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors.

The following news report credits a separate reporting system, an anonymous NASA database, for identifying the recent increase. The NASA database gets more reports than the FAA database because NASA reporting is "no fault".

Further, improvements in technology and a "systems approach" to airline crashes and safety errors allows policy makers to focus on procedural causes, rather than human error. Some ways the airlines have made flying safer:

  • no fault reporting of perceived or suspected errors
  • computer algorithms that spot low-frequency events, like near misses
  • changes in performance measurement of air traffic controllers

Watch this 3 minute news report or leave a comment - how can we make your physical therapy clinic safer?


  1. Love the analogy with air traffic control. Well done!

  2. As an airline pilot, I am always amazed at how sensational news can distort reality. If you consider how many flights there are on any given day and we only had @35 incidents overall. I wonder how many mistakes hospitals made during that same timeframe.... I am sure you as a PT get upset when the news distorts something about healthcare and I view this the same way...

  3. I do get upset when I see healthcare headlined in a negative cast.

    I was encouraged by reading deeper into the articles when I saw the increase was due to increased reporting rather than increased incidents.

    Reporting makes airline safety more transparent and easier to manage.

    The healthcare system can learn from airlines by learning "no fault" reporting.

    Unfortunately, doctors nurses and physical therapists have inherited a "naming, blaming and shaming" culture that prevents reporting and encourages secrecy.

    I got "shamed" when an orthopedic surgeon called me on the phone, yelling and cursing at me, because I had allowed a 2-week post-op rotator cuff repair to "get stiff" on an 84-year old lady who lived independently at home.

    Why was it my fault? Why did he choose to operate on an fully functional 84 year old?

    These are questions that greater transparency in healthcare will answer.

    Thank you for your comment.


  4. Leon Richard, PT, MSMarch 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    "Why was it my fault? Why did he choose to operate on an fully functional 84 year old?"

    Her insurance scan was positive... :)

  5. Congratulations! This is the best thing, Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.
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Tim Richardson, PT owns a private practice at Medical Arts Rehabilitation, Inc in Palmetto, Florida. The clinic website is at MedicalArtsRehab.com.

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