What the aviation industry can teach healthcare – Airways

DALLAS – Although it may seem surprising, the healthcare and aviation industries have many similarities. Both industries are closely monitored for security, communication, standardization and accountability; however, the aviation industry has a stronger track record of success.

Medical errors have been a leading cause of death in the United States. A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins researchers over an eight-year period showed that more than 250,000 people died each year from preventable medical errors.

Often these deaths are the result of errors made by doctors, hospitals, prescriptions and pharmacies. There are many reasons for these fatal errors, including skills, judgment, and diagnoses.

On the other hand, commercial aviation is much safer than people think and portrayed in movies and TV shows. The most dangerous part of a passenger’s journey is getting to the airport. According to Dutch aviation consultant To70, in 2021, eighty-one people died in four fatal commercial aviation accidents worldwide.

In the first half of 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that there were 20,175 deaths from car crashes in the United States alone. While there are obvious differences between aviation and healthcare, understanding what the aviation industry is doing right can provide valuable insights for the healthcare industry.

Photo: FlightSafety International and Porter Airlines


From the second aspiring pilots begin their first flight lesson, safety is the top priority. This is especially true for commercial pilots, as they are responsible for the safety of their passengers and crew.

If the plane breaks down, the pilots descend with the plane. Compare that to a healthcare worker accidentally killing a patient during an operation. The worker is still alive and can go home. In the unforeseen event of a plane crash, investigators examine the system, i.e. the plane, for fault.

Humans aren’t perfect and mistakes will be made, but it’s prudent to figure out how to prevent those mistakes from happening. If something goes wrong during surgery, the patient or family will often blame the doctor and sue for damages.

Training pilots and cabin crew is another important aspect of ensuring everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency. Through their training, they acquire skills in teamwork, communication, decision-making and problem-solving. In addition, every six months, crews must undergo competency assessments.

Crews have also established protocols that they follow for different emergencies, which are the same for all aircraft, so the protocol does not change. The training and protocols learned are the same for every airline and every aircraft, so even if a crew changes jobs, their training is still relevant. This improves both security and customer stratification in the industry.

However, in healthcare, poor training and failure to teach new workers unified protocols, especially for temporary workers, contribute to errors. The healthcare industry does not have centralized training that all employees must pass. In fact, training is often provided individually by each hospital or company, and employees at one hospital receive different training than employees at another hospital.

ICAO Council. Photo: ICAO

Governing bodies

When a problem occurs in the aviation industry, an investigation is conducted across the country and internationally, as seen with the Boeing 737 MAX (see below), while incidents that occur in hospitals are handled locally and do not receive much attention. Internally, doctors and other medical personnel receive a lot of criticism that can have lasting effects on them.

Any incident in aviation, whether it’s a plane losing a tire on takeoff or a pilot sleeping for ten minutes, gets a lot of media attention. This allows for checks and balances and creates an effective atmosphere.

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This article is for informational purposes and is not intended to provide medical advice. Featured Image: Sydney Airport