AUSTIN, Texas—Applying best practices in aviation safety to health care settings is the basis for new research being conducted by a team at The University of Texas at Austin as part of a new center funded with a five-year $7.2 million grant from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The Center of Excellence for Patient Safety Research and Practice, based at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, will conduct research to better understand medical errors and develop ways to improve safety and communication between patients and providers.
The Austin component of the team is led by Dr. Robert Helmreich, professor of psychology and director of The University of Texas at Austin Human Factors Research Project. The project is known for its work in aviation safety and human performance in space and aviation. Helmreich and his researchers will study organizational and professional cultures in health care settings and health care providers’ attitudes toward teamwork and collaboration. They have done extensive research on human factors and threat and error management in aviation and will study how these practices may be applied to reduce the number and severity of human errors in medicine.
The Houston center’s research will begin with surveys of health care professionals to determine key issues regarding communication and view of errors and their consequences. Another component of the research will develop an incident reporting system to determine how medical personnel deal with "close calls" using the approach that has successfully been employed in aviation.
Medical teams dealing with trauma in the emergency room and performing thoracic surgery in the operation room will be videotaped and behaviors coded to understand better the nature of communication and decision-making. The research should lead to new types of training, as well as other cultural and system improvements, for the delivery of safer healthcare.
"This research grant will allow the medical community to draw on safety-related methods and practices that commercial airlines have been implementing over the last two decades," Helmreich said. "The goals of improving patient safety and reducing medical errors are both significant and achievable."