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What a pilot can teach doctors in the operating room

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What a pilot can teach doctors in the operating room

Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. A airline pilot is trying to change that and Sacred Heart Hospital is teaming up with him.

Joe Brown has been a pilot for more than 25 years. He has now taken the safety protocols he's learned while working for a major airline and is bringing them to the operating room.

He said at first the doctors were surprised to see a pilot telling them what to do.

"They said 'Why is a pilot here in the O.R?'" he said. "And when administration first said we want you to do a transcather aortic valve, I said, 'what's that?"

That's the very reason he was brought in to help implement a procedure called TAVAR. It allows doctors to fix an aortic valve non-invasively versus open heart surgery. There are many departments involved. But why was a pilot with no medical training brought in to teach safety?

"I saw some parallels between healthcare as a high risk high reliability industry, looking to other high risk industry looking to get help getting medical error rates down, improving patient safety. Airlines are a natural choice cause we've done an excellent job getting our ax rate down," he said.

He implemented several things to make the O.R. safer. He said it's a systems-based approach just like flying a plane. They use checklists, simulations, and even color coded caps for each different department.

"Even though you are in charge as a physician in charge, similar like pilot in charge or captain, they are dependent on all of these working level processes that support them during cases, not about the people but the system," he said.

Cardiologist Dr. Mark Grise was skeptical at first, but now he sees how it can help, not just in the operating room, but everyday.

"He used a lot of his pilot philosophy, safety checklist simulations, we came up with protocols and programs under Joe where everything is as standardized as we can," Dr. Grise said.

Dr. Chuck Wyatt is the cardio surgeon involved in the TAVAR procedure. He was on board immediately because he is also a pilot and saw how those same principals would help make the procedure more safe.

"From those lessons learned in aviation, by transplanting in medical field, provides many many layers of safety for patient and a much better result," he said.

Brown said the goal is to train the way they work and work the way they train. Joe works with the staff until he feels it's as safe as possible and at that point he gives them the green light. Then he returns to check up on them to make sure it is still working.