Planes, trains, automobiles ... and hospitals?

Nearly everyone can agree the U.S. healthcare system can use some work, and we've often turned to other industries for inspiration. For example, the car industry and auto-racing have provided hospitals with efficiency and safety lessons. Healthcare also has looked to the chain-restaurant industry for best practices to deliver quality, coordinated and affordable services on a large-scale. Heck, healthcare leaders even took a page from reality TV to turn innovative ideas into action.

In a recent Hospital Impact post, physician executive Jonathan Burroughs borrowed strategies from the airline industry to reduce healthcare waste, such as scheduling all arrivals and departures in advance. This isn't the first time aviation has offered healthcare lessons--for example, the airline industry had a lot to teach healthcare about technology reliance and patient safety--and I'm sure it won't be the last.

But this time, the outside industry solution sparked an overwhelming reader response, the most I've seen on Hospital Impact in years. For one, that tells us how important it is to transform healthcare delivery to reduce waste and inefficiencies.

"We once again turn to the airlines for guidance. Anyone remember the British pilot whose wife was killed due to medical error? He presented the idea of safety checks that were employed on flights … worked quite nicely," wrote one reader, who added, "In my 16 years in health care I consistently witness a reluctance to adopt or even test new ideas and methods in the way we care for patients. This seems like an idea worth trying."

Wrote another: "Both systems are far from perfect but perform remarkable feats daily in terms of the sheer volume managed in often uncontrollable and challenging circumstances. That said, we could all use improvement; and learning from each other's successes and failures is more efficient than continuing to repeat our own mistakes."

Reading through the comments I also saw that while we may agree on much-needed changes in healthcare, the industry is unlike any other and so the right source of those changes remains in dispute. Some readers pointed out the flaws in correlating healthcare and aviation, with one calling it an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Wrote one reader: "Always good to apply outside solutions to new business cases, but you must be aware of where the analogy begins to break down. There are 87,000 flights per day in the U.S. and 27,000 air traffic controllers. Doubt the economics would be feasible with one new [full-time-equivalent] per three patients in a hospital. In flight control it's one FTE per plane load of customers."

Still others bemoaned flight delays and poor customer experience when flying--all lessons to ingore for healthcare's transformation.

To me, one reader put it all in perspective: "No analogy is perfect, but Burroughs at least provokes new thinking about how hospitals approach patient care and flow."

That's the important lesson. Regardless of how we get there, plane, train or automobile, the key is being on the road to better healthcare delivery. So perhaps we can heed the safety lessons from airplanes and lean efficiency tips from cars, and use appropriate best practices from various industries to make healthcare a safer, leaner, more efficient delivery system for patients. - Alicia (@FierceHealth)

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