Patient Safety

Cardiothoracic surgeons have long been recognized for their dedication to clinical excellence and patient safety. This page on the STS website was developed as a resource to provide the latest information on patient safety educational materials and peer-reviewed research offered by the Society.

Patient Safety E-Learning Program Available for Purchase

STS is offering an e-learning program on the science and practice of patient safety. “Fundamentals of Patient Safety for the Cardiothoracic Surgery Team” is a series of online modules covering topics such as the epidemiology of error, systems thinking, human factors, the culture of safety, fundamentals of quality improvement, communication, and methods and tools for evaluating safety events. By completing the entire program, learners can earn 4.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™, as well as self-assessment credits toward Part II of the American Board of Surgery Maintenance of Certification Program. 


  • $150 for STS Members
  • $250 for Non-Members

Visit to purchase the program, and contact Education with any questions

Patient Safety Symposium

Each year, a Patient Safety Symposium is held at the STS Annual Meeting. At the 55th Annual Meeting in January 2019, the Patient Safety Symposium focused on innovation in the digital era—from electronic health records to cybersecurity to telemedicine—and its growing impact on patient safety. While most attention is focused on the potential advantages of artificial intelligence, electronic health records, telehealth, and other developments, digital innovation challenges the current notion of patient safety.

You can review slides and listen to lectures from the Patient Safety Symposium through STS Annual Meeting Online. Access is free for 2019 Annual Meeting attendees, while those who did not attend can purchase access. CME credit is available. Annual Meeting Online will be available in mid-March 2019.

Patient Safety Videos

The Society has filmed a number of roundtable discussions that explore various patient safety topics.

Preparing for the Benefits of AI and New Cyber Threats in Cardiothoracic Surgery

Artifical intelligence (AI) and electronic health technologies are changing how physicians conceptualize and treat diseases. Although these futuristic advancements are leading to improvements in quality, safety, and patient outcomes, these technologies also are dramatically changing the cyber threat landscape. Kevin W. Lobdell, MD, from Atrium Health, talks with colleagues in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, and anesthesiology about embracing virtual reality, augmented reality, and machine learning, while also finding ways to protect against cyberattacks. Also featured are Anthony C. Chang, MD, BMA, MPH, from the Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute, Steven D. Harrington, MD, from Henry Ford, John C. Frenzel, MD, from MD Anderson, and Garrett L. Walsh, MD, from MD Anderson.



Discrepancies Between Evidence-Based and Real-World Practices 
It is estimated that, on average, it takes 17 years before innovation is disseminated into clinical practice. This roundtable focuses on how cardiothoracic surgery can speed up the process. Drs. Juan A. Sanchez, Michael S. Kent, Kevin W. Lobdell, and W. Chance Conner discuss why there is a gap, strategies for implementation, and quicker adoption by the end user (hospital, clinician, etc.).


Preventing Burnout in Cardiothoracic Surgery
Several reports have highlighted the problem of work-related stress and burnout among health care providers. The interventional strategies for managing burnout are not well-defined, particularly in cardiothoracic surgery, and much has been proposed in terms of methods to combat such a condition. Drs. Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, Steven G. Gabbe, Maryanna D. Klatt, and Wayne M. Sotile discuss the effects of both burnout and resiliency on patient safety and satisfaction, as well as various techniques for stress management.

Patient Safety Papers

The following articles were written by members of the STS Workforce on Patient Safety and published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Physician Burnout: Are We Treating the Symptoms Instead of the Disease?
John J. Squiers, MD, Kevin W. Lobdell, MD, James I. Fann, MD, and J. Michael DiMaio, MD
October 2017

Investigating the Causes of Adverse Events
Juan A. Sanchez, MD, Kevin W. Lobdell, MD, Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, and James I. Fann, MD
June 2017

Teamwork and Communication Skills in Cardiothoracic Surgery
Jennifer L. Wilson, MD, Richard I. Whyte, MD, MBA, Sidhu P. Gangadharan, MD, and Michael S. Kent, MD
April 2017

“What’s the Risk?” Assessing and Mitigating Risk in Cardiothoracic Surgery
Kevin W. Lobdell, MD, James I. Fann, MD, and Juan A. Sanchez, MD
October 2016

Patient Safety: Disclosure of Medical Errors and Risk Mitigation
Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, Francis D. Ferdinand, MD, and James I. Fann, MD
August 2016

Human Factors and Human Nature in Cardiothoracic Surgery
James I. Fann, MD, Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, J. Michael DiMaio, MD, and Juan A. Sanchez, MD
June 2016

Our New Reality of Public Reporting: Shame Rather Than Blame?
Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, Michelle C. Nguyen, MD, James I. Fann, MD, and Stephen Westaby, PhD, FRCS
April 2016

Patient Safety Science in Cardiothoracic Surgery: An Overview
Juan A. Sanchez, MD, Francis D. Ferdinand, MD, and James I. Fann, MD
February 2016

Invited Commentary

M. Blair Marshall, MD
Chief, Georgetown University Hospital, Department of Thoracic Surgery

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute this commentary. Surprisingly, despite the invitation, I have been reticent to write. This is not because I was preoccupied with other tasks but that the subject makes me uncomfortable. We work hard at obtaining the best outcomes for our patients; acknowledging that we err can be a challenge.

Historically, surgeons have been the greatest champions for safe and quality care. In the early 1900s, Dr. Ernest Codman, a surgeon practicing at Massachusetts General Hospital, began efforts to improve outcomes across hospitals in the United States.  His conclusions supported standardization across institutions to improve patient safety, a term not yet coined. This work was recognized by the American College of Surgeons and subsequently supported through a sub-committee of the same organization. This eventually became the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations -now The Joint Commission - the largest healthcare accreditation body in the United States.

Like Dr. Codman, many of my colleagues are great champions for the best care for their patients. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) likely did not fully anticipate the vital role the STS National Database plays in the best care of our patients, its impact on healthcare today and for the future. Outcomes, in the form of morbidity and mortality, are fundamental to the practice of surgery. By continually examining our results and identifying areas for improvement, we have been able to improve and provide safer care. Along with other advancements in medicine, the complexity of procedures performed has increased greatly while the morbidity and mortality associated with them has concurrently decreased. The constant increase in complexity and the introduction of new procedures and technology increases the potential for error.

Despite our demonstrated excellence in care, the Institute of Medicine reported 44,000-98,000 deaths occur each year due to errors. This number is sobering. It is estimated that 30-50% of errors occur in the operating room. This is not surprising given the complexity and acuity of events. With enhanced focus on patient safety, we have learned more about providing the best care. Errors resulting in harm may be the consequence of the interaction of many disciplines. Surgeons traditionally self blame for adverse events occurring in our patients. We accept all responsibility as the leader of the team and often change what we do to prevent similar events in the future. The fact that we, or others, could be set up for failure by systemic issues is a concept that is not natural to us. To make progress in patient safety, we need to appreciate the relative contributions of many factors as they relate to events that occur. We need to recognize how specific interactions work to prevent errors or encourage recovery from errors. We work in a complex environment where interactions between practitioners, machines, patients, and other non clinical staff can all have an impact on safety and ultimately, outcomes.

Before becoming involved in patient safety, I would have not thought of how the human factors related function of an intravenous pump could set  nurses up for success or contribute to their failure, or how clutter and electrical cords on the floor of an operating room lead to frustration, delays, and impact operative performance. As well, I had not contemplated how systems, machines, and personnel could be optimized to encourage recovery from error.

The relative impact of institutional culture, communication, human factors, and latent failures are critical to our understanding of how to provide better (safer) care. Our knowledge is just emerging as we learn from industries, such as aviation and other high reliability organizations where error rates are necessarily extremely low. Well functioning teams have the ability to recover from error. Likely, we have all witnessed this.  But, as it did not carry the same magnitude as harm to a patient, we may not have acknowledged it.  In our specialty, the pioneering work of Marc DeLeval, MD, Thor Sundt, MD, Paul Uhlig, MD, and others have begun to teach and encourage us to address issues related to safety. Work in this area is a challenge. Fortunately, many of us chose this specialty because that is exactly what we like, a challenge. Addressing patient safety requires changes in culture, problem solving with multidisciplinary approaches, breaking down silos and working with our colleagues in nursing, anesthesia, human resources, administration, and others to make the care of our patients safer.

I very much appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and STS staff, both past and present, whose efforts have resulted in readily available Patient Safety Resources and the Cardiothoracic Surgery Checklists and others. Guidance from the Council on Quality, Research, and Patient Safety has proven invaluable. I look forward to our future efforts, as we, cardiothoracic surgeons, continue to provide safer care for our patients.