Sunday, November 14, 2010
Teamwork Improves Surgical Safety and Reduces Mortality
Airlines have proven that teamwork in the cockpit improves safety substantially to the extent that commercial airlines demand and licensing now requires evidence of team competency.
Some hospitals have used the airline team training model – called crew resource management – to improve teamwork in the OR. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has 130 hospitals providing surgery and in 2006 mandated team training nationwide. Since it took time to arrange the training for each hospital, a study was instituted to compare surgical mortality between those hospitals which had already undergone training and those which had yet to do so (Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct 20, 2010 – both the article and accompanying editorial.)
The mandatory team training included working as a team, challenging each other as to perceived risks or safety lapses, checklist guidance, and preoperative briefing and post operative debriefing. Team members were also taught various communication strategies, how to step back and reassess, how to communicate during care transitions and basic rules of conduct.
The major measure was surgical mortality which was reduced by 18% in the 74 hospitals that had received the training compared to a 7% reduction in the 34 hospitals yet untrained (the controls.) The risk-adjusted mortality rates dropped from 17 per 1000 patients before training to 14 after training.
The study demonstrated the value of team training in reducing mortality. I would add that, although not studied, it is likely that errors were reduced overall. Surgical teams are often excellent at responding to problems including those resultant from human error. Reducing mortality was obviously important, indeed very important, but reducing preventable errors overall – as I will presume occurred – will have meant a better outcome for many patients.
The concept of team training is relevant not just in the OR but in many hospital settings such as bedside patient care rounds and with procedures done in the cardiac As I have written about before, the more team training is fostered, and indeed mandated, the lower will be the rate of preventable errors.
Praise for Dr Schimpff
The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.
-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).