U.S. Health Care System Should Embrace Greater Transparency

For all the things that could go wrong, air travel is one of the safest methods of transportation available today. One of the major reasons for this is the industry’s commitment to transparency and continued improvement. Nearly any error of any kind is recorded and scrutinized for ways to avoid the same mistake in the future. Full disclosure and frank, open discussion about the mistake are key components of this review process. This so-called “airline model” is widely lauded as an efficient (and effective) way of handling errors.

Standing in stark contrast is the U.S. health care system, which seems to provide an incentive for providers to rationalize, marginalize, or even hide mistakes. As a result, the same avoidable, preventable errors are repeated over and over, touching the lives of countless patients. We may never know exactly how many errors are made, and how many victims are involved, because there is no standardized reporting system to track medical mistakes. Indeed, due to the secretive nature of the health care industry, many injured patients are not told about mistakes, and live on with the belief that their untoward result is simply bad luck. This is no way for such a large and important industry to operate.

The health care system and the airline model have been compared and contrasted many times over the years. Unfortunately, there has been very little change in the way health care providers acknowledge and attempt to correct their mistakes.

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