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Is Your Organization a HRO? (High Reliability Organization) How can you tell? If not, why Not ? David Eibling University of Pittsburgh, VA Pittsburgh CRNA Conference April 11, 2014. What is a “High Reliability Organization” ?. Seemingly exempt from “ N ormal A ccidents”.

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Is Your Organization a HRO?

(High Reliability Organization)

How can you tell? If not, why Not ?

David Eibling

University of Pittsburgh, VA Pittsburgh

CRNA Conference April 11, 2014

What is a high reliability organization
What is a “High Reliability Organization” ?

Seemingly exempt from “Normal Accidents”

  • Work groups that function in high stress environments

    • Highly Complex

    • Tightly Coupled

    • High levels of Uncertainty

    • High Production Pressure

  • And – have fewer adverse events than expected

Normal accidents
“Normal” Accidents

“Accidents are Inevitable in complex and

tightly coupled systems”

Sagan 1993

  • Classic research by Perrow, Sagan and others

  • Studied accidents that occured during “normal” operations

    • Nuclear power, Petro-chemical plants

  • Accident rate and impact modified by numerous factors

Examples of hros
Examples of HROs

There is a science!

  • Navy carrier operations

  • Space Shuttle flights

    • Despite two catastrophic crashes

  • Commercial aviation

Deciphering the r in hros
Deciphering the “R: in HROs

  • Research dates back to 1980’s

  • Organizational Theory researchers

    • LaPorte, Rochlin, Roberts, Weick, Schulman

    • Why do Organizations do what they do?

  • Extensive literature

    • Academics tend to be in schools of business and public policy

  • Science just starting to be recognized in medicine

Characteristics of high reliability organizations
Characteristics ofHigh Reliability Organizations

  • Preoccupation with Failure

    • What could happen?

  • Reluctance to Simplify

    • Always more complex than seems

  • Sensitivity to Operations

    • What are we doing?

  • Commitment to Resilience

    • What will stop the chain of error?

  • Deference to expertise

    • Not always apparent who has it

Where is healthcare
Where is Healthcare?

Doesn’t seem very reliable

  • Medical Error 8th most common cause of death in US

    • Recent paper suggests is 3rd most common*

  • Chances of ADE range from 2 -7 /100

  • Everyone has a story

*James Journ Pat Safety 2013

Lets go back 40 years to 1973

Lets go back 40 Years to 1973

Yon Kippur war

OPEC cuts off oil

George Foreman knocks out Joe Frazier

Howard Cosell shouts “Down goes Frazier,

Down goes Frazier, Down goes Frazier”


Henry Kissinger wins Nobel Peace Prize

Watergate Hearings begin

Rose Mary Woods accidentally erases the tape


Pioneer 10 sends back first close-up pictures of Jupiter

Monica Lewinski is born


Emergency Rooms are just rooms –

Eibling begins his internship at Wilford Hall, San Antonio Tx

A tale of multiple errors
A tale of multiple errors

  • 18 Y/O man falls/jumps from 3rd floor barracks

    • Chest trauma

  • Transported to Wilford Hall USAF Med Center

  • On-call surgeon (Eibling) paged STAT

    • mid – July 1973

A tale of multiple errors1
A tale of multiple errors

  • Patient combative, pale, tachypneic

  • Unable to obtain vital signs

  • Obvious contusion over lateral thorax

  • Reduced breath sounds

  • Paged Thoracic surgery STAT

  • #14 angio placed in hand

A tale of multiple errors2
A tale of multiple errors

  • IV lost immediately

  • Chief of Cardiac surg arrives

  • Multiple attempts to restart IV

    • Saphenous cut-down attempted

  • Patient codes

  • Patient dies

  • Autopsy demonstrates lung laceration & hemothorax – no liver/spleen lac

A tale of multiple errors3
A tale of multiple errors

  • Morbidity and Mortality Conference one week later

  • Focus on Eibling’s actions/lack thereof

    • Why didn’t you restrain patient?

    • Why didn’t you place antecubital line?

    • Why didn’t you place chest tube?

    • Why did you wait so long to intubate?

    • Why didn’t you call for help?

We couldn t imagine that
We couldn’t imagine that . .

  • The system could be improved

  • Dedicated Emergency Medicine physicians would improve outcomes

  • Trauma teams should take group call

    • Rapid response teams should train together

    • That Resuscitation training and ATLS would save lives

  • That fixing the intern wouldn’t solve the problem

  • That our system was not “highly reliable”

20 Years Later “Error in Medicine”

JAMA 1994

Error in medicine lucian leape jama 1994
Error in MedicineLucian Leape JAMA 1994

  • Landmark Paper tying Concepts of Human Error(by Reason) to Medical Error

  • Amazingly pertinent even today

  • Emphasized extent of problem

    • Harvard Medical Practice study 1991

  • Quoted Schimmel’s 1964 report

    • Prospective analysis of 1014 medicine patients at Yale-New Haven Hospital

  • Emphasized value of voluntary reporting “at the bedside by the caregivers themselves”

To err is human institute of medicine 1999
To Err is HumanInstitute of Medicine 1999

Emphasized role of human error in poor outcomes

Estimated Medical Error Results in 44,000 - 98,000 deaths yearly in US

(Actual figures much greater)

Emphasized necessity of studying errors

The title tells it all . . . .

Humans are Imperfect – we must design systems that take such imperfections into account

Are we there yet
Are we there Yet?

Consensus is no substantial improvement since 1999 To Err is Human

Progress has been made –

But has been incremental – not Transformational*

  • Pre-procedure checklists

  • Time out

  • Marking sites

  • Medication safety

  • Learning from mistakes

  • Root Cause Analysis

  • Using Checklists

  • Patient Safety Goals

  • Team huddles

  • Hand off communication tool

  • Bar coding

  • CPRS Alerts

  • Simplification

  • Standardization

  • Avoid reliance on memory

  • Hand hygiene focus

*Anesthesia may be exception to the rule

There is nothing new under the sun
There is nothing New Under the Sun”

“Human Error in medicine, and the adverse events that may follow, are problems of psychology and engineering, not of medicine”

John Senders, Chapter 9 Human Error in Medicine

WHY so little Improvement ?

Maybe this story will help explain it . . . . . . . .

Who is to blame the patient 2013
Who is to Blame?The Patient – 2013

  • 60 y/o smoker with 2 cm pleomorphic adenoma

  • On VA disability for PTSD, tinnitus, hearing loss, diabetes (HbA1c 9.9)

  • Additional co-morbidities: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, prior gastric bypass for morbid obesity, prior CABG, known OSA, known ETOH abuse history

  • Multiple medications managed by non-VA primary care doctor (“shared care”)

    • Patient not aware of medications/doses “my wife manages my medications”

  • Preopeval by IMPACT clinic

    • Med list in CPRS reviewed

    • Some meds from VA, some from outside pharmacy

    • Wife not present for IMPACT, no information from non-VA PCP

Who is to blame the case
Who is to Blame?The Case

  • Uneventful Parotidectomy

    • Post-op hypertension to systolic >200

  • Urgent medicine consult

    • HTN - likely multifactorial given anxiety w/o SSRI, pain, ?OSA, CKD and likely under-treated HTN at baseline with goal BP ~130/80. on metoprololcurrently as outpatient only which is less than ideal. allergy to Ace/ARB documented and with GFR ~30 HCTZ likely to be less effective. Would recommend starting 2.5 mg of amlodipine now, restarting his SSRI at home dose, continuing Metoprololand treating pain PRN. prn hydralazine or clonidine as needed for SBP>180. Would recheck Chem8 in AM.

  • Small hematoma opened prior to DC

    • Discharged on prior medication regimen

    • New BP med missed in discharge orders (communication failure? slip?)

      • In dictated DC summary, not on nursing DC note

  • ER 2 days later admitted 6 days post op for additional management with uncontrolled hypertension

    • Med consultant discovered prior (non-VA PCP) dosing of metoprolol as well as missing ACEI/diuretic combo not reflected in any available med list

Who is to blame context
Who is to Blame?Context

  • “Shared care” – Care coordinated with VA and non-VA PCP

    • Exception rather than rule (most frequent example is anticoagulation)

    • Extensive templated notes 1 yr and 6 months previously – “Medications reconciled”

    • No data from outside PCP in most cases

  • VA med co-pay $9.00 per month per med (NSC). Generic meds at Wallmart $4.00 per month or $10.00 for 3 months. ($68 per med per year)

    • What would YOU do?

    • Relies on human to enter/update non-VA meds

  • Medication Recognition?

Assigning blame
Assigning Blame

What do you think has happened?

  • Medication reconciliation known problem

    • Failure to “reconcile” at discharge well known issue

    • No single time-linked display of medications across continuum of care

  • Previously reported to internal system- 3 work groups have addressed

    • Pharmacy work group developed single combined list of all meds (multiple problems such as duplicates)

    • Engineering group – formal study instituted by Patient Safety group concluded that with constraints of information system best solution is to assign dedicated pharmacist to inpatient med-rec

  • Level 3 Peer review level assigned to attending for all medication reconciliation errors

Keller The problem of error from Plato to Kant 1934

“It will be evident to anyone who has read the foregoing pages, that the history of the problem of error does not bear witness to a steady and well defined progress, from initial perplexity, through stages of ever increasing light, up to a final and triumphant solution. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected in the case of a question so baffling in itself, so open to evasions, and so dependent on others of positive interest.The same difficulties keep coming back under slightly difficult forms, the same postulates and general distinctions, the same ambiguities and incoherences; til one begins to wonder whether after all it is possible to give a rational and philosophic account of this irrational product of the mind”

And just this Monday . . . .

Finding med list from “Spoke” Hospitals

(Don’t appear in CPRS Meds Tab)

Click here

But this only lists meds from VA Pharmacy

Here’s how you find the rest of them

To find all meds from spokes you need to go to “Health Summary”

(near bottom of list)




Click to open Clarksburg Health Summary

Now this list opens in Health Summary Summary”

(partial list – too long for slide)

Click on Medication Reconciliation

Now click on the specific site health summary “Med Rec” Summary”

Non-VA Meds NOT in Pharm Tab





Dutasteride (twice)


Latanoprost (twice)




Lodrane D herbal??






What would an hro do
What would an HRO Do? Summary”

Can we use an event as a “biopsy” ?

Preoccupation with Failure

Reluctance to Simplify

Sensitivity to Operations

Commitment to Resilience

Deference to expertise

What would an hro do1
What would an HRO Do? Summary”

  • Preoccupation with Failure

    • Constantly asking “why do we have so many med rec errors?”

    • Med rec failures would demand high level attention

    • Leadership would feel responsible and insist on a solution

  • Reluctance to Simplify

    • How does the system work, anyway?

    • What are the areas of linkage that contribute to failure?

    • What are the “little failures” that combine to cause catastrophe?

    • What is the context we work in - ie the larger systems such as medication labeling, cost issues, etc

    • Why don’t we understand all of the components and links?

What would an hro do2
What would an HRO Do? Summary”

  • Sensitivity to Operations

    • What is really happening?

    • Who at the front line is using work-arounds?

    • What are these work-arounds and why are they necessary?

    • Who knows what is really happening and is ready to talk about it?

  • Commitment to Resilience

    • Where is the resilience in our system?

    • Where is resilience missing?

    • Are there areas of tight linkage that impair resilience?

    • How can we help our front line people stop the chain of error?

Humans are source of system resiliency and adaptability
Humans Summary” are Source of System Resiliency and Adaptability

  • How many times each day do:

    • You

    • Your fellow practitioners

    • Your colleagues in other specialties

    • Your OR nurses

  • Use a “Work-around” to solve some problem?

Studying Work-arounds is recognized as key to understanding human-system incompatabilities

Fix the system, not the human

What would an hro do3
What would an HRO Do? Summary”

“The greatest obstacle to discovery was not ignorance – it was the illusion of knowledge”

Daniel Boorstin

  • Deference to expertise (Internal)

    • Who knows what is going on?

      • Is it the nurse? Resident? Pharmacist? Patient?

    • Who might have ideas on how to reduce the likelihood of failure?

    • Will we heed their observations and recommendations?

    • Are they willing to speak up?

How to find out what sharp end practitioners know
How to Find out what “Sharp End” Practitioners Know ? Summary”

  • “Knowledge is more than information”

  • Challenge is to capture knowledge

  • Theme of the “Just Culture” movement

  • Overall, healthcare has done poorly

    • 2012 Safety Attitudes survey - 40% not talking

  • Involves more than merely “Reporting”

What would an hro do4
What would an HRO Do? Summary”

“Education is learning that you didn’t even know what you didn’t know”

Daniel Boorstin

  • Deference to expertise (External)

  • Are we the first to encounter this failure?

  • Has this been studied before and where are the reports?

  • What are others doing?

  • Are we willing to invest the time and resources to attend meetings and study the literature when it exists?

Science of error
Science of Error Summary”

  • Not a new topic

    • Cognitive psychologists

  • Human Error

    • James Reason

      • Cambridge Press 1990

    • Precipitated by major accidents of the 70’s

  • Attempted to answer the question

    • Why do we do what we do?

  • Leape tied Medical error to Reason’s work

The famous Swiss-cheese illustration Summary”

Deflected Error


An HRO knows where the holes are – and worries about the ones it doesn’t know about



Adapted from Reason 1990

Slip versus mistake after reason
Slip versus Mistake Summary”After Reason

  • Slipis an error due to failure of execution

    • 1 Qt oil in Radiator

    • Occurs at the “Sharp End” of a system

  • Mistake is a fundamental error in judgment

    • Often occurs at the “Blunt End” of a system

  • Slips are often due to mistakes in system design

Human error natural consequence of human adaptation to environmental stimulation
Human Error Summary”“Natural consequence” of human adaptation to environmental stimulation

  • Focusing attention

  • Recognizing patterns

  • “Filling in the blanks”

  • Sequencing events

The same strategies we use to manage information overload !

Knowledge and error flow from the same mental sources, only success can tell the one from the other.”

Ernst Mach 1905

Human error the scapegoat
Human Error – the Scapegoat success can tell the one from the other.”

  • Human Error serves valuable role for organizations

  • Blaming the human “absolves” organization from blame

    • Reduces work required to understand event

    • Eliminates need to either seek or alter underlying source(s)

  • Concept integrated into culture of medicine

“Any RCA that concludes “Human Error” was the cause has fundamentally failed” (Richard Cook Christopher Nemeth)

“If we design our way into difficulty we can design our way out.”

(John Thakara)

Ae s nearly always more complex than appear initially
AE’s nearly always more complex than appear initially success can tell the one from the other.”

  • Organizations often restricted by regulatory forces, competing national goals, etc.

  • “Fish can’t see water”

  • VA examples legendary

    • Software issues Medication recognition

    • Patient photo in record

BCMA – success can tell the one from the other.”

An example of complexity

Out of bed

Pain needs

In X-ray

Disease process


Family visiting


Medication ordering




Correct armband?

How to print?

Arm Band

Competing tasks


Error checking


Information System

Log in tasks

Compatibility with EHR

System reliability





Competing tasks

Physical Environment

Ward lay-out

Competing tasks take nurse away

Equipment fit in room?

A constant theme
A Constant Theme success can tell the one from the other.”

“By attributing my colleague’s accident to his inattention or stupidity, though, I make it possible to believe that the accident has no relevance for me”

“The judgment that this was human error simply produces too many Institutional Benefits”


A tale of two stories
A Tale of Two Stories* success can tell the one from the other.”

*Cook, Woods 1997

**Tucker and Edmundson

  • The Front line story versus the investigation

    • Focus on individual actions

    • Focus on retraining

    • Backward vsForward looking

      • “Hindsight Biasis”

  • First and Second order Problem Solving**

First order problem solving
First Order Problem Solving success can tell the one from the other.”

  • Worker compensates for system deficiencies

    • Classic “work-arounds”

    • The “Spackle Resident”

    • The system never is changed

  • Failure recognized as human failure

    • Unreliable, inattentive, etc.

  • Solution is by changing Human or role in process

Second order problem solving
Second Order Problem Solving: success can tell the one from the other.”

  • Assume human actions result of something (or many things)

  • Begin by assuming assessments and actions of humans are predictable

    • Seek to understand roles of context and competing goals as decision architects

    • Role of cognitive psychology

  • Much more challenging

    • Incongruent with prominent themes of medicine

Hindsight bias
Hindsight Bias success can tell the one from the other.”

  • ¾ of all AEs “Human Error”

  • Attribution easy when outcome known

  • Causal attribution relies on social/psychological constructs

    • Previous learning

    • Context

    • Decision architects

  • Difficulties in “tracing back”

May be impossible to understand decision-making processes that led to AE

David Woods

4 reasons to blame individual
4 Reasons to Blame Individual success can tell the one from the other.”

  • People are available to blame

  • People were there(maybe even lots of people)

  • Human performance in complex systems usually very good – (humans compensating for system) hence AEs are rare

  • Knowledge of outcomes when tracing backwards leads to incorrect assumptions regarding cognitive processes (outcome drives diagnosis)

Finding out what happened who does it right
Finding Out What Happened success can tell the one from the other.”Who does it right?

The Aviation Industry


Incentive for us aviation safety reporting system why the emphasis on preventing aircraft accidents
Incentive for US Aviation Safety Reporting System success can tell the one from the other.”Why the emphasis on preventing aircraft accidents?

  • Public Visibility of aircraft accidents

  • Costs

    • Economic costs of single event

    • Lives lost per event

  • The pilot is first at the scene!

  • Our congressmen fly too

The aviation safety reporting system how does it work
The Aviation Safety Reporting System success can tell the one from the other.”How does it work?

  • No-fault reporting of errors

    • No repercussions for pilot if reported in 10 days

  • De-identified after verification of facts

  • Reviewed by panel of retired pilots

  • Specific recommendations for system changes

    • Changes mandated by regulation

    • Disseminated to entire industry

  • Follow-up to verify compliance

  • Establishes a culture of safety

Aviation Safety Reporting System success can tell the one from the other.”

Note – NASA – Not FAA

How does it work the aviation industry
How does it work? success can tell the one from the other.”The Aviation Industry:

  • Accepts that Errors Happen

  • Works to understand:

    • Why? When? Where? “Even the little ones!”

  • Begins by Reporting

    • No Fault – “Everyone has expertise”

  • Looks for root cause(s)

    • Defective system – not defective people

  • Fixes the system – not the individual

  • Follow-ups to confirm fix has been implemented

History of human factors
History of Human Factors success can tell the one from the other.”

  • Early years of aviation checkered history

  • Aircraft reliability improved during WWII

  • Post-war introduction of jets did not go well

  • Began to realize cause not the airframe – but the pilot

Human Error

“If we design our way into difficulty we can design our way out.”

(John Thakara)

Human factors engineering a new applied science
Human Factors Engineering success can tell the one from the other.”A “new” applied science

  • Military began to realize aircraft too difficult to fly

  • G-forces, dehydration

  • New technology Pressure suits, etc.

  • Cockpit controls

  • Too much to remember

    • Wheels-up landing

  • Instrumentation

    • Autopilot programing

      • AA 965 Dec 21, 1995 Cali Columbia

  • Teamwork

    • Eastern Flight 401

Human factors research in medicine
Human Factors Research in Medicine success can tell the one from the other.”

Estock et al 2014

Some actions ARE blameworthy success can tell the one from the other.”

Just Culture in the Aviation Industry

“a no-blame culture is neither feasible nor desirable”

Reason 1997

There are some rules you would never break

How do we define the line between

acceptable and unacceptable behavior ?

Global Aviation Information Network

Available from

“Just Culture” success can tell the one from the other.”

There is a “line in the sand” between driving 75 in a 65 MPH zone versus 75 down Fifth Ave

“A just culture recognizes that competent professionals make mistakes and acknowledges that even competent professionals will develop unhealthy norms (shortcuts, routine rule violations), but has zero tolerance for reckless behavior.”

(AHRQ website)

“Who draws the line is the most critical question”

Dekker 2012

Culture of safety what is it we are talking about
Culture of Safety success can tell the one from the other.”What is it we are talking about?

  • Patient Safety is first priority

    • Controversial

  • Leadership leads safety initiatives

  • Employees believe safety top priority for leadership

  • Employees empowered to speak up

  • Employees expect changes will be made to correct threats to safety

  • Measured by “Patient Safety Attitudes Survey”

  • Distributed and collated by AHRQ

  • Data published in February

  • Overall poor results

Most healthcare workers in US work in systems that address mistakes with name-shame-blame

Leadership is key
Leadership is Key success can tell the one from the other.”

“The most important question in establishing a Just Culture is Who gets to decide what is acceptable”


So what is our responsibility
So, What is success can tell the one from the other.”Our Responsibility?

Recognize that most adverse events are due to latent errors

Highlight these latent errors in our hospitals, clinics, and offices

Educate leadership to the fundamentals of a culture of safety

Accept Responsibility for the Systems of care in which we care for our patients.

We can help our organizations become hros begin by reporting
We can help our organizations become HROs success can tell the one from the other.”Begin by Reporting

Don’t accept the Status Quo

  • Recognize that as front end staff YOU have expertise

  • Speak up and encourage others to report

  • Participate in analyses of failures

    • Look for the “second Story”

High reliability organizations consistently demonstrate a
High Reliability Organizations success can tell the one from the other.”consistently demonstrate a:

We Can

Show the Way

  • Preoccupation with Failure

    • What could happen?

  • Reluctance to Simplify

    • Always more complex than seems

  • Sensitivity to Operations

    • What are we doing?

  • Commitment to Resilience

    • What will stop the chain of error?

  • Deference to expertise

    • Not always apparent who has it