How JetBlue can improve your medical practice

I got a chance to fly JetBlue for the first time recently. Since I had heard so many good things about the airline, I was looking forward to experiencing the JetBlue, well, experience.

I took four flights in total with them. While outbound, they lost my bag. While inbound to Chicago, my last leg was delayed about 2 hours. I then I had to wait another 80 minutes for my bag to come down the carousel.

Would I fly them again? Read on and find out. Here are 10 observations  I noticed while flying with JetBlue and how a medical practice can implement these observations.

1. Service with a smile. All JetBlue employees have a smile on their face. And what I appreciated the most is that the smile appeared genuine. If it wasn’t, they did a very good job convincing me it was. Their warm welcome made me feel good.

This one seems like an obvious one. But very few practices emphasize the importance of smiling. Too bad; because smiling is free. And the return on this free investment is huge.

2. Less scripted. I can’t verify this, but it seems to me that JetBlue employees don’t follow scripts when they are announcing things the same way other airline employees do. One can tell they are required to go over airline stuff, but they seem to address it in a casual way. Almost as if they are just talking to you as opposed to all passengers. Like some one that you know giving you instructions. The result?  To me, they appear human instead of machines going over and over a set of patterns.

In a single day, we can encounter hundreds of people at a practice. Consequently, it is easy to fall into on a robot-like narrative when we discuss HIPAA jargon, deductibles, EOB’s and “office policy.” JetBlue showed me that you can still have a set of instructions or guidelines to go over specifically, but it can be done more casually and less like a script.

3. Personable. On a couple of my flights, I noticed that the captain actually stands outside the cockpit, faces the passengers, and addresses the passengers on how long the flight is going to last, if there are any delays, or how soon we’ll be off the ground.

I tend to delegate when it comes to patient matters.  But the JetBlue captain addressing the passengers directly got me thinking that I should take the time, from time-to-time, to call parents directly and address them instead of delegating the task. There is something to be said about the boss, the manager or the doc calling directly.

We’re all busy. I know. But on a flight, the captain is the big kahuna. I’m sure he has important things to do too. But taking that extra few minutes to personally address “customers,” instead of using the PA system, gives the airline a more friendly and amiable personality, so to speak. And I think I could achieve the same results by making a few patients calls.

4. Crossed trained. On the plane, it isn’t always the flight crew that makes the announcements. On my flights, I even saw a baggage handler from the ramp come on board and make a few on-board announcements before they closed the doors.

I also noticed that it is the flight crew that is responsible for cleaning the aircraft. For the crew, I’m sure this is humbling. But it also shows what type of company they really are.

We know that cross training employees enables personnel to learn tasks associated with more than one job, which saves us money, increases productivity and provides backup. But more important to me is, cross-training increases employees’ insight in ways that are impossible through interactions with workers alone. In other words, employees gain a greater appreciation for their co-workers when crossed trained.

5. How can I help? JetBlue employees wear shirts that encourage passengers to ask for help. I even saw a guy that looked like he worked on the ramp strolling through the terminal with a shirt that offered help.

Airports (just like medical offices or hospitals) can be stressful, intimidating and outright confusing to some. Having a policy where all employees are available to provide assistance is also a very nice touch.

I know what you’re thinking … this observation seems obvious. Of course we are always providing help at our medical practices, right?

How many times have your heard, “I don’t know … you called radiology … you’ll have to call medical records for that information?”

Most employees in medical facilities are generally willing to help if it falls within their immediate role, their department or their area of expertise. Just like the ramp guy strolling through the concourse  is willing to help, we too can find ways to help patients even if it doesn’t fall directly in our area of expertise.

6. Information desk. As if the ask for help message on employees’ shirts wasn’t good enough, JetBlue has several counters throughout the terminal with employees ready to help out.  Most airlines have one customer service counter. But JetBlue has many well-staffed counters waiting to help passengers with whatever they need. I’m sure these counters are very handy when delays arise.

7. Accommodating airport. JetBlue’s JFK terminal is one of the nicest airport terminals I have seen. Not only do they have a nice food court and nice stores, the place looks very modern, accessible and simple to navigate through.  Furthermore, there are a lot of chairs, work-stations, and many outlets to plug in all the tech junk we now carry. All this stuff makes layovers much more bearable.

It is obvious we can’t equip our offices the way an airline terminal is equipped, but we can think about what would make our facilities more accommodating to our patients and parents. The magazines we put out, the chairs, the décor, the cleanliness … all these things may seem trivial, but I’d be willing to bet they go along way in enhancing a patient’s experience at one’s office.

8. Sweet entertainment. It is no secret. JetBlue has one of the best in-flight entertainment systems in the business. Access to DirectTV and XM satellite radio at every single seat is, well, just awesome. Add on-board WiFi and I could probably go around the world once without getting up to go to the bathroom.

Individual LCD screens for each patient with access to DirectTV might not be an option either (although if you have desktops in your examining rooms, you could put on a movie or music while they wait), but maybe ejecting that 1995 VHS tape of Barney you have looping in your waiting room and putting in Toy Story may put you on the right direction.

9. Collaborative environment. I had to gate-check my carry on, but the crew member didn’t have any tags. The cockpit’s door was open, so the captain overheard the conversation the flight attendant and I were having about the gate check and the tags.

To my surprise, the captain sprung up from his captain’s chair and told the flight attendant “let me get tags for you from the ticket counter” as he jetted up the gate.  I remember thinking … wow, that was very nice. And from the captain no less. Seeing the captain do that is really telling.

It is difficult for employees, regardless of pay-grade, go all out to help each other, unless there is mountains of evidence that the executive management team has gone all out to help their employees. My guess is that you don’t get a high grade pay level employee to respond like that unless the employee has seen instances where management has done the same.

That is why I try not to ask an employee to do something that they haven’t seen me do already. That includes everything.

10. Updated. On my flight back, we encountered multiple delays. And although it was painful to have a 2 1/2 hour flight turn into a 6 hour flight, the captain kept us well informed of what was going on; which kept passengers’ emotions at bay.

Again, this seems obvious. But let’s face it. We don’t always keep patients informed when the doctor is delayed. JetBlue’s frequent updates helped me realized how valuable keeping people informed is. It didn’t make waiting easier, but  it didn’t make it worse.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that airlines and private practices have a lot in common. But if you think about it a little, you’ll find that they both share similar complaints. For example, both have long waits, lots of rules that seem frivolous, but are there for safety and protection, both can be costly, both generally have poor customer service as well as restrictions on what one can and cannot do. The list goes on.

But if JetBlue is able to improve on the ordinary and become remarkable by doing things differently, we too can create an experience that is different than the rest.

Despite the fact that there were mishaps during my trip, I was very pleased how they handled all the situations. Furthermore, some of these experience enhancing observations JetBlue does really made my experience with JetBlue a pleasant one.

So, back to my question … would I fly JetBlue again? I think the answer is obvious. Absolutely.

Brandon Betancourt manages a pediatric practice and blogs at Pediatric Inc.

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