Aviation's lessons for health IT

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The recent deadly Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco called into question whether pilots rely too much on technology. The broader issues of technology's hidden dangers are important for healthcare as well, according to someone who knows about both--Nathaniel Sims, M.D., a pilot and physician advisor for biomedical engineering at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

He outlines his perspective on how the two fields relate in a post for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) Blog.

"The risk that arises in any industry, including aviation and healthcare, when automation is introduced, is the potential for basic skills to grow rusty," Sims writes. Before technology automation, professionals were more adept at responding to unusual circumstances and mishaps. Now, with automation removing some from exercising basic skills on a more regular basis, reaction is delayed.

After the Asiana crash, Sims writes regulators must ensure the workforce is trained in basic skills, an understanding of basic principles, crisis-management skills and effective teamwork and communication skills.

"So, how might the Asiana crash landing and other aviation incidents apply to healthcare?" Sims writes. "They could provide crucial opportunities to learn. I'd encourage healthcare educators and leaders to study the lessons in the "human-machine" issues apparent in aviation tragedies, and see how they might best be applied in their medical world."

While technology response may need work, hospitals have stood at the ready in the face of disaster--the crash in San Francisco that left two people dead and more than 180 injured, according to CBS SF, is among recent disasters, such as the Boston Marathon bombing in April and the tornado in Oklahoma in May that tested hospital disaster preparedness.

One thing that can help ensure a workforce is trained: The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology in June released a 42-page IT framework to help organizations as they shift into accountable care models. The paper was developed to address a basic issue with the transformation: lack of experience and knowledge about the necessary health IT infrastructure. As organizations grow and gain experience, the recommendations are expected to evolve, the authors say.

To learn more:
- read the blog post by Sims in AAMI Blog

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