Every year, 180,000 people die because of accidents in their medical treatments.
"That's the equivalent of a huge plane crash once a day," said Wichita physician Robert McKay, program chair of anesthesia at the University of Kansas Medical Center-Wichita. He was citing a survey last year of medical deaths by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.
"If a plane crashed every day, people would stop flying. But they can't stop going to the hospital," McKay said Tuesday.
This week, McKay learned, a simulation training program similar to one he's trying to help bring to Wichita had all but eliminated what the health care profession calls "adverse events" at one large Midwest hospital.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital recorded about one such event every six months 10 years ago, before they started training with medical simulators. Now, the hospital has gone 3 1/2 years without a serious safety event, according to Tom LeMaster, program director for the Cincinnati Children's Center Simulation and Research Center.
Simulators allow medical professionals to practice real-world scenarios on high-tech mannequins under the same types of circumstances they face in hospitals or ambulances.
"I can't say simulation fixed everything, because there are other changes we made, but I can say it was a huge part of it," LeMaster said.
Such success helped bring together leaders from Wichita's hospitals, medical clinics, military installations, emergency services and health care schools to sign a joint operations agreement for the Mid-Continent Regional Center for Health Care Simulation.
About a dozen health care leaders and educators signed the agreement for the proposed $14 million training center during a lunch at the Wichita Art Museum.
The agreement represents a formal backing of the project from the city's health care organizations and schools. It may open as early as next year if enough money can be raised, organizers said.
"It worked in Cincinnati; it can work anywhere," said McKay, who serves on a steering committee for the new center.
LeMaster said the Cincinnati program started training hospital staff in the emergency room and now is integrated throughout the hospital. LeMaster said his crew now can bring a simulated emergency test into the hospital, unannounced, and teams must react as if it's a real emergency.
"We run about two codes per month throughout the hospital," LeMaster said.
LeMaster cited the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, which pumps blood and oxygen to a patient during heart surgery. It effectively takes over for the heart and lungs. When it works. But it's a machine, built by humans, and has its limitations and failures.
"And when a heart-lung bypass stops, you're in trouble," LeMaster said.
But since doctors and nurses have been training in simulation of such emergencies, they now handle them better.
"With something happens now, it barely bothers them, and they can fix it quickly without stress to the patient," LeMaster said.
That's the kind of training, and patient safety results, those hoping to bring to Wichita's health care community.
Paul Uhlig, a heart surgeon and associate professor of preventive medicine and public health at the KU medical school, is chair of the steering committee. He said the center is organizing itself as a nonprofit. The Wichita Community Foundation is taking donations for the project until the group gets its tax-exempt status.
Uhlig said the group hopes to raise $8 million of its startup costs through community donations, another $5 million through a one-time investment of local and state funds and $1 million in support from the local health care industry.
Tuesday's signing was a symbol of the community commitment to raise the funds.
"It's a statement of sincere interest in working together to create this center," Uhlig said.
The group is scouting several locations for the center, Uhlig said, which would be centrally located and easily accessible by all the health care centers and educational programs in the area.
The goal, Uhlig said, is to become a regional medical training center.