Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, noted Safety Expert and New York Times bestselling author, became famous on January 15, 2009. 

He had 208 seconds to safely land US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after a flock of geese flew into the plane’s engines. He was hailed as a hero for saving all 155 passengers on board that day—but his goal now is to save hundreds of thousands of patients’ lives based on his insights as a thought leader in the area of patient safety.

"There are 200,000 preventable deaths each year in the U.S. healthcare system.  It would be like having 20 Boeing 747 airliners going down each week."

The importance of prevention

He says, “There are 200,000 preventable deaths each year in the U.S. healthcare system.”  Even worse, half of those deaths are from hospital-acquired infections. Captain Sully explains the scope of this tragedy: “It would be like having 20 Boeing 747 airliners going down each week. People would not be flying. There would be intense investigations.”

He notes the parallels between aviation and healthcare—highly trained specialists dealing with extremely complex, high-risk situations. “What it all comes down to is improving human performance.”

Making moves

His suggestion: Create an agency for healthcare similar to the National Transportation Safety Board, which provides systematic oversight over the aviation industry and intense investigation and follow-up after every single crash.

With new laws, the system is shifting. Soon physicians will be paid not for procedures, but based on outcomes. Patients must be vigilant now, however, by always communicating their full medical history in a healthcare setting and having an advocate.

Captain Sully says, “We have to stop thinking of preventable deaths as unavoidable and start thinking of them as unimaginable.”