“You need to start treating them (medical errors) as inexcusable,” Sullenberger said. “Ultimately, you should do so for three reasons: Your patients deserve it, your colleagues expect it, and your profession demands it.”
Among the aviation practices that could make a significant difference in healthcare delivery, according to Sullenberger, are: the creation of a national patient-safety reporting system, the standardizaton of medical equipment and procedures, the increased use of evidence-based checklists, and the development of an industrywide culture of safety.
When asked by an attendee during a question-and-answer period when the healthcare industry would adopt a national public medical error reporting system, Sullenberger said, “Not soon enough. That's up to you. But it can't happen soon enough.”
One of the hurdles to increasing patient safety is the fact that “medical mishaps” happen one at a time and “don't receive the same level of public attention” as an airliner crash landing on the water, Sullenberger said.
Sullenberger is credited with saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew by landing his crippled airliner on New York's Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009. A little more than a year later, Sullenberger flew his last flight as a commercial pilot—from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C.—on March 3.
Sullenberger's speech as the HIMSS conference just a day after his retirement attracted national media attention and clearly boosted attendance at the closing HIMSS session, which traditionally suffers a drop-off as attendees head home.
Several thousand attendees listened to Sullenberger's address, giving him two standing ovations and numerous rounds of applause. Sullenberger's appearance also drew media coverage for HIMSS. A HIMSS spokeswoman said CNN and two local network-affiliated TV stations covered his speech.