What Hospitals Can Learn From Airports

Posted on January 23, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Few of us would want to get our healthcare in the cavernous, emotionally sterile barns that are today’s airport terminals. (We definitely wouldn’t want to face a security checkpoint before we could get our care.) But there’s a fair amount of technology, data use and workflow that hospitals could intelligently borrow from airlines, as well.

Here, in no particular order of priority, are some approaches hospitals could borrow — or use more effectively — from an airline terminal:

*  Kiosks:  Sure, hospitals use kiosks, but far too few hospitals bother.  And when they do use kiosks, it’s largely about billing and perhaps appointment setting/confirmation.  Why not create a “patient card” with the ability to display a patient’s care status on a kiosk  (“Jane Smith is in imaging as of 5:32  p.m.”) and seed all of the main thoroughfares of the hospital? This would be of enormous help in orienting caregivers and for that matter, staff.

* Big-screen displays:  Yes, obviously, patient information can’t be displayed as casually as flight departure/arrival updates. But if a patient gets a code (tied to the card I mentioned above) patients and caregivers could know where to go and when. In the ED, smaller displays could show room-bound patients what activities are planned for them in what order. (Note: Check out John’s post on other uses of Digital Signage in Healthcare for similar ideas)

Wandering helpers:  When airlines are particularly busy, they sometimes send out members of their staff to wade into lines and help passengers get where they are going.  Equipped with a modified tablet accessing the same information as the kiosk, these hospital helpers could be stationed in high-traffic areas and available to help patients and family get where they need to be to participate in care. For patient-specific information, people could present their “patient card” and learn about the status and location of the specific patient.

Along with technology-based approaches like these, I’d also like to see hospitals offer a terminal-like retail strip for visitors, many of whom spend huge blocks of time on the campus and don’t have a chance to eat properly or get small errands done. But that’s for another story, perhaps. In the meantime, I think we need to look closely at how airlines marry people flow and technology — it could be a good thing for the industry.