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"Miracle on the Hudson" Pilot Now Crusades Against Medical Errors

After safely landing his US Airways jet in the middle of the Hudson River, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has devoted his retirement to improving safety. However, his efforts have been focused on the healthcare industry, not the airline industry.

Capitalizing on his status as a national hero, Sullenberger’s new mission is to reduce medical errors, which kill 200,000 patients a year. To put it in terms of the airline industry, the figure is akin to 20 jetliners crashing per week. As Sullenberger highlights, these fatalities rates would never be acceptable in the airline industry.

“There would be a national ground stop. Fleets would be grounded. Airports would close. There would be a presidential commission. The NTSB would investigate. No one would fly until we had solved the problems,” Sullenberger recently told Politico.

Sullenberger’s approach to medical errors reflects his years in the aviation industry. In both cases, errors are largely attributable to human error, poor communication, defective equipment, and faulty systems. While the airline industry and government agencies have been able to work together to greatly reduce plane crashes, Sullenberger is frustrated that medical errors don’t receive the same attention and political support. The pace of change is also far slower.

“My message is we should be less patient,” Sullenberger said. “We should reject the status quo now, not 20 years from now, because it’s failing us. I’m not happy with what’s happening. The rate of change, the rate of improvement in patient safety has plateaued.”