Formula 1 pit crews inspire physicians

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In American Medical News, Kevin O’Reilly examines a study of the lessons physicians have learned from the high-speed ballet of precision-drilled Formula 1 pit crews. After all, those tire-changing automatons have perfected the sort of routine that medicine’s checklist advocates have been preaching for some time. Because their actions are so specific, the F1 crews provide a seductive example of the efficiency that can be gained through practice, databases and, of course, checklists.

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Photo by usag.yongsan via Flickr

“At the moment, we kind of say, ‘Well, we do it this way.’ Everybody thinks they know really what happens, but not everyone does,” (lead author Ken Catchpole, PhD) said. “There is lots of individual variation that creeps into these things. Sometimes that’s good, and it’s responsive to individual patients. But often that creates these uncertainties that increase the opportunities for errors to happen.”

Catchpole has helped physicians at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children use F1 techniques to improve their handoff of pediatric heart surgery patients to intensive care, with results first published in the May 2007 issue of Pediatric Anesthesia. New protocols developed in response to video examination of pit stops and visits with F1 racing crews helped cut the duration of patient handoffs and reduced omissions of critical information and technical errors by 67%, the study showed.

For more, see Fierce Healthcare’s Dan Bowman to brief exploration of medicine’s fascination with Formula 1.

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