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Checklists? Check!

Dennis Matthews is an instrument-rated commercial pilot and AOPA member with more than 1,200 hours of flying experience. He loves flying and, being a diligent pilot, understands the need for adhering to checklists for all phases of flight. Readers of this newsletter and the Fly Well columns in AOPA Pilot know that I harp about checklists for one’s health—certainly before flight, using IM SAFE and other methodologies, and for general health maintenance. Checklists force one to make sensible decisions before getting into and piloting an aircraft. Checklists ensure you get your blood pressure checked, your prescriptions filled, and your AME physical properly sorted.

If you have not seen the gear-up landing video that has done the rounds on social media, I encourage you to do so. Filmed from the back seat, the video shows the two chaps in the business end of the single-engine aircraft making an approach to a beautiful airfield in the mountains. As they descend through final, the blaring horn that ululates prior to touchdown is stoically ignored. Their look of confusion as the airplane skids to a halt would be funny if it were not real life. Thank goodness only the airplane and asphalt were damaged.

Failing to follow checklists can have dire consequences, and this concept resonated with Matthews. So it is probably not too surprising to learn that he encouraged his colleagues at the Tahoe Institute for Rural Health Research, where he is the chief science officer, to develop software to display checklists on iOS and Android tablets for physicians, particularly anesthesiologists, so that they can rigorously follow treatment protocols during emergency situations. Medicine has picked up on the aviation discipline of adhering to prescribed protocols for mission-critical steps of medical therapy for all phases of treatment, and this is another example. Surgeons now use checklists to ensure that they have the right patient (don’t laugh, tragically doctors have operated on the wrong patient), the right operation, and the right side. Or left side, as the case may be.

The technology Matthews and his associates developed is called PACE (Protocols and Algorithms for Critical Events) and is the brainchild of a practicing anesthesiologist, Dr. Larry Silver. PACE is now in beta test at medical facilities in California and was demonstrated at the recent American Society of Anesthesiologists 2015 annual meeting. The product walks the medical team through the protocols that have been developed for critical events and provides an electronic record of the treatment that occurred during the emergency. So, just like an ATC tape, there can be a review of what transpired should the need arise.

So, if at some point you, or a loved one, has to be admitted to the hospital for a potentially life-saving procedure, you can rest assured your doctors are learning from diligent aviators that the discipline of sticking to checklists can keep you safe on the ground or in the air.

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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