Incredibly, in spite of their inherent risks, air travel and nuclear management are two of the safest industries in the United States. Over the last two decades, nuclear and airline incidents have been extremely low largely due to both sectors’ emphasis on safety.
The healthcare industry, on the other hand, is still dealing with a large number of adverse events. According to a September 2013 Forbes magazine article based on a study published in The Journal of Patient Safety, as many as 440,000 patients die each year from preventable medical errors. “With these latest revelations,” the article states, “medical errors now claim the spot as the third leading cause of death in the United States….”

Not all is bleak, however. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that “an estimated 50,000 fewer patients died in hospitals…as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2013.” If the industry wants to continue making strides like these, it’s time to follow the safety examples of nuclear management and air travel.
The Safety Records of the Airline and Nuclear Industries
Patient Safety reports that U.S. airline safety records are remarkably clear of incidents: only 129 deaths were reported in more than nine million flights between 1990 and 2001. Incredibly, this number dropped even further in the following decade, down 88 percent between 2001 and 2011. This means that air travel produces, on average, only 1.6 deaths per 1 million flights.
The nuclear sector is even more impressive. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear industries reported a mere 0.04 accidents per 200,000 working hours (or 1 accident per 5 million working hours) in 2013.
Create Zero Harm Environments
Both air travel and nuclear industries have cultivated workplace cultures that prioritize customer and worker safety with zero tolerance for harm. Healthcare workers and administrators should focus on creating their own “zero-harm” environments, but are often hesitant to call for this level of safety. Many believe it to be both unrealistic and unachievable. However, according to Mark R. Chassin, president and CEO of The Joint Commission, “The lesson for healthcare is not to be satisfied with modest improvements. Aiming for zero harm is the first step toward achieving it.”
Continually Improve
Nuclear safety leaders are big proponents of in-depth backup safety protocols and continually improve their standards in light of new information. For instance, in response to the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011, the industry tightened its already strict procedures and implemented new facility requirements.
Unfortunately, healthcare has not always followed this protocol. The New York Times covered a study on Medicare patients where federal investigators discovered that “even after hospitals investigate preventable injuries and infections that have been reported, they rarely change their practices to prevent repetition of the ‘adverse events.’” This inaction has led to serious consequences—every month, an estimated 130,000 Medicare beneficiaries are experiencing one or more adverse events in hospitals. In an updated study, the numbers have improved by nine percent, but the industry is still a long way from the goal of zero harm.
Share Information
Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, famed airline hero and advocate for healthcare safety reform, told the Healthcare Financial Management Association that industry leaders must follow the air travel industry’s policy of encouraging an environment in which all workers can relate their roles to some element of safety. This can be achieved by being transparent in both safety records and staff concerns. As Becker’s Hospital Review notes, hospitals and healthcare organizations need to allow every team member to relay and report both their concerns and input regarding safety procedures.
Data and information must be easily shared among staff members. Without transparent medical records, accidents due to human error are more likely to occur. According to HIT Consultants, automated systems have a direct correlation in lowering patient deaths. These types of automated systems are common in both the nuclear and airline industries. Nuclear safety technicians, for example, are able to share and communicate potential safety hazards with fellow staff members and higher up administrators through automated logging.
Become Safety Leader
This commitment to blending reliable technologies with a commitment to “zero-harm” practices keeps nuclear and air travel industries at the top of safety ratings. At IntelliCentrics, we are proud to be partnering with hospitals and other facilities to achieve the same safety levels within the healthcare industry. With the right tools and with continual cultural and system improvements, our hope is that the healthcare industry will soon be able to claim its own place as a leader in safety.


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