The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal agency that investigates automobile and aviation accidents and makes recommendations for improvements to safety regulations, would serve as an excellent model for an agency to monitor patient safety, according to a recent medical journal article.
The article was written by a medical doctor, an attorney, and two celebrities: actor Dennis Quaid and airline pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III. They draw on examples of aviation safety improvements to make the case for a similar body to handle medical issues, and they each draw on personal experiences to show how such an agency could help prevent medication errors and other potential harms.
The four authors each have experience as pilots and have personal stories relevant to the issue of aviation and patient safety. They use the aviation system as a model because it has had great success with safety improvements. In the 1970’s, air travel reportedly had a risk of death from crashes of one in two million. Now, the risk is down to one in ten million. A well-organized system of investigating and reporting on aviation accidents led to extensive improvements in training, equipment maintenance, and overall management of air travel. The authors cite the link between investigations and “preventive action” as the key to the NTSB’s success. The same link is needed in medicine, they say, where inefficient systems prevent broad safety reforms, costing both lives and money.