On the similarities between medicine and... aviation

I like how discovering something fascinating often leads to other fascinating discoveries that stem from the first one - like a tree.

A few days ago I discovered a Brian Goldman's TEDx talk (which I strongly recommend watching) which moved me, so I linked it up on my blog here and went to Google a little more.

Then, yesterday, I came upon Brian's article on Huffington Post (which I, also, strongly recommend reading) where he wrote a little more about his journey since the much-discussed TEDx talk.

And then, from there, I ended up listening to a Stanford School of Medicine 1:2:1 podcast with captain "Sully" Sullenberger - which I, not surprisingly, also strongly recommend listening to, because some of the stuff he talked about there made me go... wow.

(In case you're unfamiliar with who the "Sully" Sullenberger guy is, then he's that retired US Airways plane captain who landed a big Airbus in Hudson River just off of Manhattan a few years ago and by doing so, quite certainly saved the lives of 155 people aboard.)

Since retiring from aviation, Sullenberger has become a health reform advocate. He is asking United States of America to set up a similar independent safety authority for medical mistakes as there exists one for transportation.

In a nutshell, aviation has now for over 50 years had an independent investigating organ which collects information on all the incidents, crashes, technical failures and such, and because they have that overview of what-happens-where-and-why, they're able to consistently offer up solutions and procedures which limit and prevent human error.

And that, some say, is essential element of aviation safety today - so essential, in fact, that it would be hard to imagine aviation without the National Transportation Safety Board.

In healthcare, such an organ doesn't exist - not to NTSB's level, anyway - and Sullenberger says that a similar model in healthcare would make... I'd like to say miracles, but Sullenberger doesn't use the word "miracles", instead, he says it would change the system - and by change, he means for the better.

What happens in medicine instead is this:

"200,000 preventable deaths per year in this country alone," he says, "that's the equivalent of 20 large jet liners crashing every week with no survivors."

If the number of preventable fatalities which occur in medicine happened in aviation, he says, the country would ground all aircraft within two or three days and then keep everything down until it's figured out why crashes happen and what needs to be done to prevent them - sort of what happened after 9/11 when every plane was grounded and for a few days US airspace was empty of all aircraft and skies which are normally littered with contrails looked more like they would've looked like decades ago.

But in medicine, what happens instead is guilt and shame - stuff that Brian Goldman talks about.

And so I have listened and nodded and have, yet again, felt so, so, so grateful that I am not living in US any more because for people that are healthy and well, US can be a wonderful place to live, but as soon as medical problems arise and insurance caveats kick in... dear god, life can get so unimaginably complicated.

Having come from a country with publicly funded healthcare and living in a country with publicly funded healthcare, I doubt I will ever agree to live in a country that doesn't have it. Heck, if anything I wish New Zealand taxed its people more!

But sorry, I am getting off topic here.

What Sullenberger talks about in Stanford School of Medicine's 1:2:1 podcast applies to US more than it does to New Zealand because of the existence of ACC alone which, quite uniquely in the world, is able to gather impressive data about accidents and their causes. However, what he talks about isn't entirely foreign to New Zealand either.

And I just feel like from the last few days alone I have picked up so much more... understanding, not just about medicine but about people in general.

And, man, do I ever like listening to people who are able to talk about the stuff that matters to them without getting all puffed up about it and leaning into demagogy. I mean, Sullenberger alone sounds like a guy who will just quietly keep on talking about what he thinks is important and will keep on using data, data, data - and rational arguments - to help listeners understand, instead of shouting or, God forbid, pleading with politicians or becoming a politician himself.


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