What the Aviation Industry Can Teach Healthcare
Industry Op-Ed Safety

What the Aviation Industry Can Teach Healthcare

DALLAS – While it may be surprising, the healthcare and aviation industries have many similarities. Both industries are closely scrutinized for their safety, communication, standardization, and responsibility; however, the aviation industry has a stronger track record of success. 

Medical errors have been one of the leading causes of death in the United States. A 2016 study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers over an eight-year period showed that more than 250,000 people died each year from preventable medical errors.

Often, such deaths result from errors made by doctors, hospitals, prescriptions, and pharmacies. There are many reasons behind such fatal mistakes, including skills, judgment, and diagnostics.

On the other hand, commercial aviation is much safer than people think and than it is portrayed in movies and TV shows. The most dangerous part of a passenger’s journey is driving to the airport. According to Dutch Aviation Consultant To70, in 2021, eighty-one people died in four fatal commercial aviation crashes worldwide.

In the first half of 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that there were 20,175 fatalities from car crashes in the United States alone. While there are obvious differences between aviation and healthcare, understanding what the aviation industry does correctly can provide valuable information for the healthcare industry.

Photo: FlightSafety International and Porter Airlines


From the second aspiring pilots begin their first flight lesson, safety is the top priority. This is especially true for commercial pilots, as they are responsible for the safety of their passengers and crew.

If the plane goes down, the pilots go down with the aircraft. Compare this to a healthcare worker who accidentally kills a patient during an operation. The worker is still alive and can go home. In the unforeseen event of an airplane crash, investigators look at the system, that being the aircraft, for the fault.

Humans are not perfect, and mistakes will be made, but it is prudent to figure out how to prevent these mistakes from occurring. In the event something goes wrong during a surgical procedure, the patient or family will often blame the doctor and sue for damages. 

The training that pilots and cabin crew undergo is another important aspect of ensuring that everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency. Through their training, they learn teamwork, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, every six months, crews have to undergo proficiency evaluations.

Crews have also established protocols they follow for different emergencies, which are the same for every aircraft, so protocol does not change. The training and protocols learned are the same for every airline and aircraft, so even if a crew switches jobs, their training is still relevant. This improves both safety and customer stratification in the industry.

However, in the healthcare industry, little training, and failure to teach new workers unified protocols, especially for temporary workers, contribute to errors. The healthcare industry does not have centralized training that all employees need to pass. In fact, training is often done by each hospital or company individually, and employees at one hospital receive different training than employees at a different hospital. 

ICAO Council. Photo: ICAO

Governing Bodies

When an issue arises in the aviation industry, an investigation is done throughout the country and internationally, as seen with the Boeing 737 MAX (see below), whereas incidents that occur at hospitals are addressed locally and do not receive much attention. Internally, doctors and other medical staff receive a lot of criticism that can have long-lasting effects on them.

All incidents in aviation, whether it is an airplane losing a tire on takeoff or a pilot sleeping for ten minutes, receive a great deal of attention from the media. This allows for checks and balances and creates an efficient atmosphere.

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This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to give any medical advice. Featured image: Sydney Airport

Joshua Kupietzky has a passion for aviation and deep expertise in the aviation industry. He’s been enamored with the facts and figures of the airline industry, and the details of the make and model of commercial aircraft for as long as he can remember. Based in Chicago, US.

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