Airline pilots offer insight for quality improvement in the operating room

What do surgeons and pilots have in common? Baylor College of Medicine’s Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and American Airlines Flight Academy came together recently to determine just that.

Through a program with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, leaders from the two organizations joined forces to learn about communicating and managing high-stress situations, whether in the operating room or 36,000 feet above the ground.

A part of the department of surgery’s quality and safety initiative, the event, held May 4 on the main Baylor campus, started with a presentation from Capt. John Duncan and Capt. Chris Moran on safety training and compliance of pilots at the airline. The presentation was followed by breakout sessions where the captains observed various surgery scenarios presented by Baylor’s Simlympics Team and brainstormed solutions for the medical world based on aviation safety experiences. For example, one scenario simulated a lack of communication with the surgeon on the patient’s allergies as well as an interruption to communicate about an upcoming surgery during a critical period in the operating room. Watch a video highlight of the event.

Many ideas were discussed, including following standard operating procedures as well as communicating intentions and potential problems. However, the main message gained from the event was that whether in the air or in the operating room, collaboration is in everyone’s best interest.

“This is a first step in a journey – there’s a lot we can take from this,” said Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair of surgery at Baylor.

“The meeting was a unique opportunity for both groups to learn from each other,” said Moran, senior manager of flight safety and investigations at American Airlines. “It quickly became clear that we have more in common than one would think! Continuous improvement is an important part of our safety culture and we look forward to additional exchanges of ideas that benefit both communities.”