Lessons learnt from the aviation industry could be applied to health care, improving standards and limiting the number of life-threatening mistakes by hospitals, a Dubai conference has heard.
Managing fatigue among staff, the use of data science and winning public trust were issues discussed during a talk on the opening day of the Dubai Health Forum, being held at Dubai World Trade Centre until Thursday.
Emirates was certified with a four-star airline safety rating during the pandemic by industry analysts, Skytrax, and was one of the first to offer free hygiene packs to passengers.
Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates, said common themes of safety, expensive machinery and direct public contact meant the industries shared similar objectives in reducing costly mistakes in the air, and on hospital wards.
“Over the past two years, we have learned a lot, and we can share lessons over a longer period across to the health sector,” Mr Al Redha said.
“Everything in our business must work like clockwork. If a mistake happens, we complete a detailed investigation, not necessarily to analyse individuals, but to ensure the same mistakes do not happen again.
“These kind of checks and practices have enabled aviation to be one of the safest forms of travel.
“If you walk into a hospital or an aircraft and you see a damaged seat or piece of equipment, it makes you wonder what else is damaged beyond what you cannot see.”
Aviation safety has dramatically improved since the late 1950s, largely owing to the forensic nature of crash investigations and access to black-box data that provides a detailed account of an aircraft’s final movements.
Since 1959, when about 40 fatal air crashes for every one million departures in the US were recorded, there has been a decrease to around 0.1 incidents per million.
That drop-off in fatal crashes comes despite a huge increase in the amount of air traffic around the world.
Regular checks for mental stability, fatigue and drug and alcohol use among pilots and crew also helped to improve aviation safety.
Similar checks could be applied to healthcare settings to ensure clinicians are capable of performing their duties, Mr Al Redha said.
“How we ensure our resources and crew are maintained to their maximum performance and intelligence is crucial — as is how we assist them psychologically so they are fit for what they are doing.
“If something is bothering our staff in the morning, we must make sure they are able to come in the next day to do their jobs.
“We need to make crew feel rested enough to have the energy and alertness required.
“That includes when they are flying, and also when resting in other countries in different time zones.
“They cannot always sleep when they want to, but we can help them with a scientific approach to make it easier for them so they can do their jobs in a better way.”
Self-reporting improves airline safety
In the US, a strong safety record has been forged thanks to voluntary reporting of potential hazards by pilots, controllers and mechanics during maintenance.
Analysing and responding to data has meant a decade without a single fatal air accident in the country.
Meanwhile, hospital errors across America are estimated to cause about 250,000 unnecessary patient deaths annually, with around one in 20 UK hospital deaths resulting from serious mistakes.
Self-reporting of near misses or potential problems in health care, as done in aviation, could help reduce hospital errors, while technology is likely to reduce the number of pilots required in the cockpit, without compromising safety, Mr Al Redha said.
“When a mistake happens, we encourage our staff to look for any abnormal practices and speak up,” he said.
“Many companies have pulled back from investment during the pandemic but aviation has continued, to maintain that level of safety.
“Advanced technology has played a major role, and now we are moving to a different level.
“With aircraft manufacturers, we are considering how we can operate our aircraft with a single pilot and reduce the number of people in the cockpit.
"A decade ago this would not have been possible, but now with the level of technology, we are able to introduce alternate means to give a better service without compromising safety.”