Innovation: Operation Pit Stop

2008 | Jul 8 in Systems , Management , Leadership

By Ross MacLeod,

Drs. Martin Elliot and Allan Goldman of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Bloomsbury, London, England are cardiac surgeons and Formula One racing fans. The good doctors know first-hand that the transfer of a patient from their operating room to the intensive care unit is a complicated and error-prone event, demanding close attention, lots of equipment and much data in a short time span. They observed that their patient transfer procedure was similar to the complex, high-stress and time-critical tasks done by race teams. They decided to launch Operation Pit Stop.

They went to work, first with the McLaren F1 race team and then with Ferrari to understand the structured processes used by the race crews and to translate that knowledge into a restructuring of the patient transfer procedure.

The doctors and the race specialists worked together at the Ferrari home base in Modena, Italy, in the hot pits of the British Grand Prix, and in the Great Ormond Street Hospital operating rooms and intensive care unit. The medical team saw that each member of the Ferrari crew was required to do a specific job, in a specific sequence, and often in silence. In contrast, the patient transfer was often chaotic.

The result was a major restructuring of the patient transfer procedure that stemmed directly from the race team lessons. After adopting the new protocol, the medical team compared a total of 50 transfers; half before the new protocol, and half afterwards. The average number of technical errors per transfer fell 42 percent and information errors fell 49 percent.

"We had all being doing our jobs for years and we thought we were pretty good at it," said team member Dr. Nick Pigott. "Then, after we had been with the Ferrari team, we watched videos of ourselves at work and it was quite a shock to realize the lack of structure in what we were doing. There is no doubt that it is our research with Ferrari that has honed our transfer from theatre to intensive care to the level of silent precision it is today."

"When we look at the number of critical instances we encounter, they have reduced markedly since we introduced the modified training protocol developed from what we have learned from Formula 1," said Dr. Martin Elliott. "International, main-stream media interest has widely disseminated our results, engaging many more people in the patient safety agenda, and emphasising the need to look at the system – not just the individuals – to improve quality of care."

We congratulate the Operation Pit Stop team, and encourage all to seek innovative solutions, to orchestrate new systems and to quantify performance results in the iterative cycle of improvement.

Further reading

Have you adopted an innovation from another industry? Post a comment and let the group know.


  1. .Erin D. says:

    Here's another great example of how looking outside your industry for innovative solutions can lead to amazing results.
    American entrepreneur Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry in the early 1900s with the introduction of the automobile assembly line. Prior to Ford, cars were built one at a time and in limited quantities making them too expensive for the mass market. Determined to "build a motorcar for the great multitude," Ford knew that the production process used by the automobile industry up to that point simply wouldn't do.
    So he got creative and went looking for ideas. He found his inspiration in an unlikely place: a Chicago meat packing plant. It was the meat-butchering process that inspired Ford to develop the automobile assembly line!
    With the assembly line mode of production, the Ford Company was able to reduce the price of their famous Model T by more than 50 percent and increase production by 2000 percent in just six years.

    Submitted Jul 8, 2008 8:56 PM

  2. .Larry H. says:

    Good example, Ross.  I read a similar story last year about a doctor who had developed a series of simple printed checklists for doctors and nurses and support staff to use in Intensive Care Units that -- when utilized -- consistently reduced incidences of hospital-caused emergencies and secondary infections by a rate that was impossible to ignore.  Curiously (or maybe not so), the biggest hurdle he faced in initiating his checklists was the resistence he got from doctors having their natural skill and capabilities questioned and from nurses' initial reluctance to second-guess the doctor or point out to their colleague that he or she had "missed a step."  In many ways, this is the same kind of challenge any business owner faces when introducing new systems into a workplace that has been happily, though perhaps inefficiently, doing it's own thing for some time.  The full New Yorker article  (a great read, by the way) is here:  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/12/10/071210fa_fact_gawande/

    Submitted Jul 9, 2008 2:48 PM

  3. .heather l. says:

    Great article. Everyone in this scenario wants a win/win situation, and it is very exciting.

    Successful businesses and institutions think positive and strive for excellence, working together.  So it IS possible and it fosters maximum progress.

    The question the article raises for me is why are innovations NOT adapted?  Can we imagine that governments and politicians could adopt this positive cooperation?  Care of our society and infrastructure would appear to be as crucial as the care of patients. 

    I am very glad the doctors and nurses don't indulge in the gloomy and negative behavior of government officials and politicians.  Or is it perhaps a question of what and how the media chooses to report depending on the industry they are dealing with?

    Worth considering the effect this has on innovation and progress?


    Submitted Jul 14, 2008 6:55 PM

  4. .Iain C. says:

    It's a good question - why are innovations NOT adopted. One reason is that the terms 'creativity' and 'innovation' are not clearly defined in most organisations.

    It is something I have written about on our blog - Green Hat Thinking - a couple of times as it is one of the reasons for lack of innovation. Too often staff don't see anything happening to their ideas once they put them in the 'suggestion box'. Senior management are then perplexed when the new strategy or 'big idea' isn't implemented.

    People own what they help to create - so get them involved at the beginning and you'll be amazed at the results.

    Blog post I was referring to - http://blogs.holstgroup.co.uk/greenhat_thinking/?p=51

    Submitted Jul 15, 2008 2:04 AM

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