We have all heard stories of cockpit behavior in an airplane that causes a crash. The navigator or first mate says to the pilot, "Watch out for that mountain." The pilot ignores the advice, and the aircraft ends up in flames. This kind of thing can happen in a hierarchical environment.
The same kind of thing can happen in an operating room, where the surgeon is the "pilot" and the nurses and anaesthesiologists are the support crew. Doctors, like pilots, are trained to be in charge and to make split-second decisions.
A few years ago, a series of errors and bad communication in our obstetrics department resulted in the loss of a baby and almost resulted in the death of the mother. For a department that had always prided itself on providing extraordinary care, the event was a shock and caused an intense self-evaluation.
Using the experience of the military -- indeed from those cockpit situations --the Department proceeded on a full-fledged series of courses in team training.
This was not a simple seminar or two. It was a process that took many months. After all, it had to break down barriers and behaviors that had taken years to develop. Nurses had to feel comfortable offering suggestions to doctors, and doctors had to learn how to hear the nurses' comments.
Here's an article that describes the whole thing. I urge you to take the time to read it. Our OB staff would tell you that it has changed their view of practicing medicine. They would also tell you that it has created unusual bonds of collaboration and friendship in their department, even for a group that had always had a strong group ethic. Most important, the program has actually had a measurable difference in clinical results. Our folks now participate in programs across the country to spread the word.
I wish I could tell you that we have taken this experience and have infused it throughout our own hospital. We have not, at least to the extent I would like. Not that we are not trying, but it turns out that the culture of each department and each division is a bit different, even within the same hospital. So it takes longer than you might expect. What might work in OB needs to be modified to work in surgery or orthopaedics. Even within surgery, what might work for the pancreatic surgery group -- see the November 27 discussion below on Whipple procedures (What Works -- Part 2) -- might not be quite right for the transplantation group. Like other medical centers, we are still feeling our way through this issue of the diffusion of practice improvements.