Healthcare lessons from a United Airlines flight gone horribly wrong

Doctors talking
Hospitals can learn from the unfortunate incident involving a doctor being physically dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight. (Getty/wmiami)

The highly publicized incident of a doctor being physically dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight was a public relations nightmare. But the drama and the backlash that ensued offer several lessons for healthcare organizations.

The healthcare industry parallels the aviation industry in many ways, wrote Paul Keckley, Ph.D., a healthcare policy analyst, in a piece for Hospitals & Health Networks. Both are highly regulated, manage highly skilled talent who work under pressure and depend on technologies and advanced analytics, he said. As a result, hospitals can learn from the unfortunate incident that involved David Dao, a 69-year-old doctor. Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Frontline staff hold the key to a hospital’s reputation: If the United Airlines staff handled the incident differently, it likely wouldn’t have received the amount of media attention and public backlash. Keckley said more than 90% of the hospital’s workforce has frontline roles. Therefore, it’s vital that hospital leaders understand what these staff think of the hospital and its culture so they can manage the reputation of the organization.
  2. Boards must understand how policies and procedures are executed: Boards must not overlook how their organizations implement policies and procedures.

    "Customers truly appreciate quality service; whereas, procedures that cross a line, as Dao experienced, spark resentment and outrage. Hospitals need to maintain the trust of their communities, and that starts with good customer care,” he wrote.
  3. The patient’s experience matters: Patients can become unhappy if they have long waits in the emergency room or have trouble obtaining test results.

    “Patient experience means we have to do a better job with listening and communication. It’s common sense. When we listen better and communicate better, things get done correctly and efficiently, and that improves safety and quality,” wrote Anthony Cirillo, president of The Aging Experience, in a column for Hospital Impact.

    Keckley agreed. “When we put patient care above all else will go a long way to creating a caring, consumer-centric culture," he wrote.