Oct. 20, 2011
By Luke Baynes
What do a pilot and a surgeon have in common?
They both have high-risk jobs and take other people’s lives in their hands every time they go to work.
That correlation is the driving force behind Mach 1 Solutions, a Williston-based company that uses aviation training techniques and checklist procedures to improve safety and efficiency in the medical field.
Mach 1 was co-founded in 2007 by Williston resident Steve Lambrecht, who serves as a managing partner of the company when he’s not serving his country as a full-time member of the Vermont Air National Guard. Prior to joining the Green Mountain Boys, Lambrecht was a graduate of the elite “TOPGUN” fighter school (“It is nothing like the movie,” he assured), served in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and flew more than 100 combat missions in Bosnia and Iraq.
Now he’s using his experience to transform chaotic hospital emergency rooms into well-oiled machines.
“Medicine is a high-risk endeavor, as is aviation,” said Lambrecht. “In medicine they really didn’t follow checklist procedures and didn’t do a lot of things that in aviation we’ve learned to do the hard way over the course of decades.”
Perhaps the hardest lesson of the commercial aviation industry occurred on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747s collided on a Canary Islands runway and killed 583 people. The incident was caused by air traffic control and pilot errors. According to Lambrecht, the accident resulted in sweeping changes throughout the airline industry.
“NASA was directed by the government (to assess the airline industry) and what they came back with was that the hierarchies were too steep, teamwork was too low and it was preventing communication and preventing us from stopping these errors from happening,” Lambrecht said. “Medicine isn’t exactly the same thing, but you have a surgeon in the operating room, and even if the surgeon is the nicest person in the room, the very fact that they are who they are presents a barrier of communication.”
To help prevent communication breakdowns in hospitals, Mach 1 implements a system known as “Crew Resource Management,” which focuses on six key areas of workplace performance: leadership, communication, decision making, situational awareness, resource management and task management.
“When you analyze errors, what you find is that there is a breakdown in one of those six areas,” Lambrecht said.
Mach 1 normally spends a year going through the CRM training process with a particular hospital. After completing the 12-month program, it obtains error data from the hospital and compares it to the prior year’s errors.
“The results have been pretty dramatic,” said Lambrecht. “I’m not at liberty to discuss specific situations, but I can tell you that the rates of error have decreased substantially.”
Despite the safety improvements and corresponding cost reductions Crew Resource Management techniques provide, Lambrecht said a “vast minority” of hospitals have implemented CRM procedures.
“We run into resistance all the time,” he said. “Usually the subordinate members of the teams are very enthusiastic about this process. Among the leaders, it’s a mix. I would roughly estimate you have about 10 percent that are resisters — either passively or actively. They feel like they’re giving up control of something, when what they’re really doing is allowing their team to help them be more successful.”
Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine are some of Mach 1’s notable clients, but Lambrecht believes his company’s performance solutions can apply to any line of business.
“A lot of what we teach translates anywhere,” he said. “There’s always a place for good leadership and communication and teamwork.”