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WMU gets $4.2 million to promote safety in health care

June 16, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Techniques long used in the aviation industry to boost safety and develop effective flight teams will be put to work to promote safety in health care fields, thanks to nearly $2.8 million in research funds awarded by the state to Western Michigan University.

Acting at its June 15 meeting, the steering committee for the Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor approved $2.79 million in funding for the College of Aviation's Center of Excellence for Simulation Research. The award was the largest single amount approved in this round of the competitive, peer-reviewed funding process. Matching funds totaling an additional $1.4 million from Battle Creek (Mich.) Unlimited and the Forest Park Foundation of Peoria, Ill., bring the total project funding to $4.2 million over three years.

The funds will support an effort to take the simulation strategies developed to train commercial flight crews and apply them to the health care arena to improve training for medical personnel. The center is directed by Dr. William Rutherford and Dr. William Hamman. Both hold medical degrees and are commercially licensed pilots who have extensive backgrounds in flight crew training and development.

"Simulation technology has been used to reduce the instance of human error in the aviation industry for 50 years," Rutherford says. "The medical community is being encouraged to begin doing this, but there is no system in place. People are developing medical simulation technology but no one knows whether it's valid or how to integrate it into medical training. We plan to draw from the lessons we've learned in aviation to develop the simulation tools that are effective and lead to higher levels of patient safety."

Better patient care, reduced health care costs and the possibility of developing spin-off companies that produce simulation hardware and simulation software and courseware packages are among the long-term outcomes Rutherford and Hamman see as a result of their work. The center will also develop processes and standards for the industry and could eventually evolve into a private service-based organization for the health care industry with an employee base of more than 25 and a significant impact on the local economy.

Rutherford says the medical community nationwide has been urged to use simulation technology to train personnel as a way of reducing the human error factor that leads to injury or death in health care settings. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine confirmed that patient injuries due to human error are common, and the figure for deaths caused by such errors is approaching 200,000 annually. A recent three-year study of patient safety in the nation's hospitals identified 1.14 million patient-safety incidents among the 37 million hospitalizations tallied.

The WMU center will work with Michigan State University's Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies to develop simulation scenarios for medical teams that are based on solid research. The work will also involve several departments in WMU's College of Health and Human Services, the Department of Psychology and the University's Evaluation Center. Simulation labs will be located both at the MSU facility, a center located in Battle Creek, and in WMU's new College of Health and Human Services building.

"The science at the heart of the airline simulation system was developed through meticulous, detailed analysis of crew performance in scenarios developed from real-life events," says Hamman. "We're aware of no equivalent work being done in healthcare simulation, and without that groundwork, there's no guarantee that simulation training will be done in a way that will benefit the health care industry."

The research directors say the team approach to simulation training is something developed in the airline industry and will play a critical role in building effective medical simulation protocols. The experience in aviation, where early simulation focused on building the technical skills of individual pilots, will serve as a model.

"Acceptable air safety was only attained when training and checking processes specifically incorporated 'human factors' and crew skills as primary considerations, along with technical proficiency," Rutherford notes. Rutherford and Hamman joined WMU's College of Aviation faculty last year. The pair has worked together on simulation research for the past 10 years.

Rutherford, a native of Geneseo, Ill., came to WMU from the University of Miami School of Medicine, where he taught and was director of simulation science in the anesthesiology department. Prior to that, he was with United Airlines for 31 years, retiring as vice president for flight standards and training. He earned a bachelor's degree from Stanford University and his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College.

Hamman came to WMU from United, where he is a senior international captain and was a leader in the airline industry for applying risk analysis processes in airline operations. He also was instrumental in developing the team training and assessment of flight crews in the Advanced Qualification Program, known as AQP. AQP has changed the way airline crews are trained and certified in the United States. Hamman was a member of the Human Factors Subcommittee for administrator Jane Garvey of the Federal Aviation Administration, and is former chairperson of several Air Transport Association, NASA, and Airline Pilot Association focus groups. In his prior research Hamman has been involved in the study of the long-term effects of weightlessness. That work was selected for NASA space program payloads. Hamman earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue University and both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Wisconsin.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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