Hospitals need healthcare flight crews

by John LaBine

What are the root causes of communication inefficiencies in hospitals?  Hovering around any given patient/case are many players, each with a huge variety of demands for his/her time, attention and presence.  And they know there are costs of certain outcomes (medical errors, stress, wasted nurse/physician time, etc.). Each caregiver has his own long list of things to do, places to be, people to care for – and each has ample incentive to optimize locally.

The list of things a flight crew does when an engine catches fire is probably a lot like the list of things a surgical team does when a patient’s heart stops unexpectedly.  Both teams can run through simulations, be tested and certified; technology can be purchased and applied.  Communication protocols can be established, rehearsed, and standards enforced.  And both situations probably have similar potential success rates.

But what if commercial aviation didn’t staff control towers with flight controllers around the clock?  No problem when all of the flight controllers along the way happen to be in their control towers, focused exclusively on aircraft in their radar.

But what about when one goes golfing, and forgets to sign-off to the backup flight controller?  Or when another leaves the number for his answering service on a recorder at the tower?  Or when another controller refuses to use the portable radio when he leaves the tower because it doesn’t work in his home – insisting pilots send him a page instead?  Would commercial airline safety and efficiency approach hospital safety and efficiency levels?  Maybe.

Before communication can occur, there are two (or more) parties – each with her own preferences and ideas for how any given exchange should take place, but not always aware of, or sympathetic to, the preferences of the other – whose’ orbits must intersect.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: sometimes the solution that best serves the hospital and the patient (and even Dr. B) – will inconvenience Dr. A.  Commercial airline pilots got used to this idea a long time ago.  Many doctors have not, yet.

How much of the inefficiency can a hospital address without intelligent, rules-based notification/contact routing (i.e., their own control towers with flight controllers)?  Or, better yet, how much communication waste can you eliminate if you don’t address one fundamental root cause:  parties who operate in separate orbits first have to agree if/when/how they will communicate.

The commercial aviation parallel is a good one: pilots operating in separate aircraft with different agendas agree on notification/contact protocols.  If they didn’t, many more passengers would die.

John LaBine is the former CFO of PerfectServe.

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