High Reliability Organisations (HRO), including healthcare and aviation, have a common focus on risk management. The human element is a ‘weak link’ which may result in accidents or adverse events taking place. Surgeons and other healthcare professionals can learn from aviation's rigorous approach to the role of human factors (HF) in such events, and how we can minimise them.
Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) reports show that fatal accidents are frequently caused by pilots flying outside their own personal limits, those of the aircraft or environment. Similarly, patient morbidity or mortality may occur if surgeons work outside personal their capability, with poor procedure selection and patient optimisation, or with a team or theatre environment not suited to the procedure.
The authors of this study introduce the personal limitations checklist – a tool adapted from aviation that allows surgeons to define their limits in advance of any decision to operate, and develop critical self-reflection. It also allows management of patient expectations, shared decision making, and flattening of team hierarchy. The minimum skills, patient characteristics, team and theatre resources for any given procedure to proceed are defined. If the surgeon is ‘out of limits’, redressing these factors, seeking additional assistance, or thorough patient consenting may be required for the safe conduct of the procedure. The authors explore external pressures that could cause a surgeon to exceed both personal and organisational limits.
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