Best Care In The Air

That was the old Midwest Airlines motto.  I’ve been traveling a bit lately, which often makes me reflect on the parallels that have been drawn between the aviation industry and health care, and the notion that we in medicine can learn from what has been done to maximize safety in commercial flying.

This time, I was also pondering what we might learn from the service and efficiency aspects of aviation and the hospitality industry.  Yes, airlines hardly have a reputation for customer service, but then again, neither does health care.  Consider the following:

– Self-service check in.  I’ve seen airport-style kiosks used successfully for families to register at another children’s hospital with a very busy orthopedic clinic.  Families were highly satisfied, the process was timely, and fewer registration personnel were needed.  How could we make the check in process more efficient and user friendly?

-Text reminders.  On my last flight, I got text reminders of flight status and gate locations.  Could we use text messaging or other means to remind families of appointments, notify of delays, prompt for feedback, etc.?  We also need to think about using available technology to communicate more broadly with families – e.g., test results, questions, etc.  MyChart will be a step in this direction, but how can we make it as accessible as possible?

– Scheduling.  Twenty years ago the only way to book a flight was through a travel agent.  Airline scheduling was supposedly so complicated only a professional could do it.  When was the last time you spoke with a human to book a flight?  True, clinic scheduling algorithms can get complicated, but the vast majority could be computerized and automated to allow families to make appointments at their convenience.

-Customer loyalty programs.  We often (and sometimes pejoratively) refer to patients who have a lot of contact with us as “frequent flyers”.  Frequent flyers on airlines get certain perks.  What could we do to encourage or reward our frequent flyers?  The same is true of those who refer patients to us.  A complaint I’ve heard from our CMG physicians is that they get no tangible benefit from being part of our system in terms of facilitating patient referrals.  Perhaps we can explore expedited access or other incentives for our most loyal customers?

-Training.  People who work in service industries have to be skilled at what they do – pilots need to be highly competent at flying, maintenance workers have to know how to keep the machinery operating, chefs better be able to create delicious meals.  But they also receive specific training on how to provide excellent service. I’m not suggesting we sacrifice the effectiveness domain of quality for family-centeredness.  But the best care does both. What do we do to make sure that everyone who has contact with patients and families is not only skilled at her or his job, but can also make the experience a satisfying one?

Being able to provide not only the most effective and safest care, but also care that is efficient, timely, and patient- and family-centered is important for several reasons.  First, for a lot of our services, families have other options for providers that, if we are honest, we can’t always differentiate ourselves from on the basis of effectiveness or safety.  We will need to compete on other aspects – cost and service – to attract them here.  Second, even in those instances where we provide care that is clearly more effective, poor service can create enough of a barrier that families may seek care elsewhere.  Finally, if quality care is defined as the kind of care you’d want for yourself if you needed it, think about the times you’ve been a patient or parent of one.  Let’s face it – service matters!

OK, time for me to go through security.  At least we don’t have the TSA in our lobby.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: