Editor's Page


Miracle on the Hudson

What safety lessons can you learn from The Miracle on the Hudson, the emergency landing of a crippled US Airways jetliner in the Hudson River? Plenty, says Stephen Harden, the chairman and CEO of LifeWings Partners (www.saferpatients.com), which helps healthcare facilities adopt the best practices of commercial aviation and other high reliability organizations. Mr. Harden will be the leadoff speaker at our 3rd annual OR Excellence Conference, taking place Oct. 5-7 at San Diego's Manchester Hyatt.

Jan. 15, 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport with 155 people on board, bound for Charlotte, N.C. Minutes after takeoff, the Airbus A320's engines sucked in a flock of birds. The plane quickly lost power and altitude. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger decided to bring the jetliner down on the frigid Hudson. They call this a ditching. Every pilot trains for one, but very few have ever had to actually land a plane on the water. Capt. Sullenberger pulled it off flawlessly, gliding his plane into the river tail-first, just as the manuals outlined. That's why the plane didn't break up and not a person on board died, says Mr. Harden, himself an expert pilot.

"It was called a miracle, but it was a great example of the old adage that systems are perfectly designed to get the results they produce," says Mr. Harden. "The crew performed as they were designed to perform."

"? "? "?

Capt. Sullenberger was hailed as a hero because he and his crew were trained to behave as an ultra-safe and ultra-reliable team, says Mr. Harden, who'll outline the 3 keys to doing so at OR Excellence:

1. Train your staff to behave as an expert team. The complexity of surgery, both in terms of advances in technology and in the procedures you perform, has outpaced the innate human ability to work collaboratively and with great expertise. "We've advanced much further in the science of health care than we have in the science of teamwork," says Mr. Harden.

2. Implement hardwired safety tools. Most facilities that Mr. Harden visits use a surgical safety checklist, but they don't use it correctly. It's treated like more of a grocery list, an audit tool, than what it's designed to be: a trigger for scripted communication among the team members about the procedure they're ready to do. "To make those teamwork behaviors a part of your work life, you have to create and implement hardwired safety tools," he says.

3. Let teamwork behaviors flourish. Mr. Harden will outline the 12 leadership actions you must take to create a culture where teamwork behaviors and the use of safety tools can flourish, where staff are free to speak up, for example, if they have an inkling that something's not right.

You'll find the ORX syllabus in the back of this issue and full conference details at www.orexcellence.com. See you in San Diego in the fall. Safe travels!