Pit Stop Tips For The Operating Room

pit crew, surgery, mark phillips
What do an infant in urgent need of a life-saving operation and a car in an auto race in which split seconds can make all the difference have in common? According to Dr. Allan Goldman, a lot.

"In both, you have multiple professional teams that reconfigure as a single unit to perform a complex task in a short time. We face that exact dilemma," Goldman, an intensive care specialist at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, tells CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

The dilemma is not in the surgery, delicate though it is to repair the heart of 4-month-old Nermina Brace. The dilemma comes when the operation is over and the patient is transferred to an intensive care unit.

"We just had been operating, were tired and were watching TV when the Grand Prix was on, and the pit stop was on. And we said, 'Well, it's the same thing.' They're transferring all this information, they're doing some mechanical things," says Dr. Martin Elliott, a pediatric surgeon at the hospital.

They were doing to the car what the doctors and nurses were doing to the patient.

"Somebody does the breathing machine, someone does the monitoring, someone does the drain," Goldman explains, adding that it's "exactly" comparable to changing the tires an filling up the fuel tank.

So the doctors approached Formula One, saying, "Come look at what we do and fix it."

"When we videotaped it, we were horrified," Goldman says.

Twenty-four people working in a meticulously choreographed dance at the pit stop had exactly the right experience for helping the hospital staff.

"It actually multiplies up to probably about 80 or 90 individual tasks. Typical race pit stops are somewhere between seven and nine seconds," says Steve Hallam, chief of race engineering for McLaren Formula One racing

One of the biggest lessons for the doctors was learning what not to do.

"One of the most striking observations that both groups made when they came to us was, 'hang on a minute, you're all in each other's way,'" Elliott says.

Now tasks are more defined, more ordered and the numbers of attendants more limited.

But how do you measure success? In a race, it's easy. The faster the pit stop, the better. At the hospital, success is measured in fewer mistakes, less stress and ultimately, a better result for the patient.

Little Nermina and her parents may not know it, but she owes her future to the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital — and to the grease monkeys on the track who had so much to teach them.