The “Miracle on the Hudson” captain spoke about the concentrated effort airlines have made to address safety, and challenged healthcare executives: “What will it take in your domain?”
He described the number of deaths due to medical errors as the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing each week with no survivors—a number that would be untenable for the airline industry.
“We can no longer define safety as the absence of accidents,” he said, adding that new technology allows airlines to find even the smallest anomalies in flight patterns. “We have to proactively look to minimize risk.”
One of the biggest impediments in healthcare, he noted, is not having the right numbers. “You need to know your numbers,” he said. “That's how you can come up with a business case for safety. It's always less costly to get it right the first time than to get it wrong and have to remediate.”
On Jan. 15, 2009, Flight 1549 started off like any other. Sullenberger did what he had been doing for the past 22 years—an added step that the airline did not require him to take but he would do anyway. He made sure the ticket count from the gate agent matched the headcount from the flight attendants.
“I thought I would never need to use that information—I was wrong,” he said. “Paradoxically, it was procedural compliance … that helped save our lives that day.”
But following the peer-reviewed safeguards is just one component of good leadership, he noted. “It's the evidence that tells us what to do and how to do it, but it's our humanity that tells us we must do it,” he said. “We're beginning to prove that these human skills have the ability to save as many lives as technical skills, as clinical skills.”
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