What Healthcare should or shouldn’t learn from other industries


Learning and adopting best practices from others is often sage advice. After all, why invent from scratch when you can stand on the shoulders of those who have done it before? No matter what industry you work in you will hear repeated calls to “look beyond the border” to other industries for inspiration and innovation. Healthcare is no exception.

Just by the sheer number of articles and blog posts, it appears that the aviation industry is the most popular choice for healthcare inspiration. Everything from the way pilots are trained to the way that the FAA investigates incidents seems to have an equivalent in healthcare. Indeed many healthcare “innovations” appear to have been adopted from aviation including: checklists, standardized incident reporting and simulation training.

In an MedCity News interview, Robert Szczerba, founder of X Tech Ventures, expands on the concept of simulation and how helpful it could be in healthcare:

Just as the use of flight simulators and system integration concepts revolutionized the aircraft industry decades earlier, similar concepts can be applied to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the health care industry today…Using simulated virtual environments, we can bring the techniques we take for granted in other industries —- notably aviation —- to not only design new clinical systems but to improve existing systems

In that same interview Szczerba also suggests that healthcare has a lot to learn from the banking industry when it comes to data security and interoperability.

Another industry that healthcare is often compared to is hospitality. With their focus on treating people as “guests” and their goal of ensuring guests are as comfortable as possible – hospitality meshes well with the latest patient-as-a-consumer trend. There is a fantastic quote from Atul Gawande on this topic:

We can bristle at the ideas of chains and mass production, with their homogeneity, predictability and constant genuflection to the value-for-money god. Then you spend a bad night in a ‘quaint’ ‘one of a kind’ bed-and-breakfast that turns out to have a manic, halitoxic innkeeper who can’t keep the hot water running, and it’s right back to the Hyatt.

A recent blog post by Katie McGraw cites several examples on how healthcare could learn from Pixar – the iconic creators of memorable animated movies: Toy Story and Cars. In her post McGraw talks about how Pixar’s Braintrust is willing to cancel mediocre projects when it becomes clear that the intended results will not be obtained – something she wishes that governments would practice when it comes to healthcare legislation (read Meaningful Use).

Although other industries can be a source of innovation, many within healthcare caution against blindly adopting practices that work well “over there”. In his 2010 article “What Can Health Learn from Other Industries of High Intrinsic Hazard”, David M Gaba MD wrote about the structure of the aviation industry lends itself to standardization much easier than in healthcare. He rightly points out that there are only a handful of independent airline operators in the US compared with thousands of independent healthcare organizations.

Thus, health care doesn’t have the economy of scale that aviation has. A good aviation safety idea, even if not an official “de jure” regulation, can be adopted by the industry nationwide if 10 firms think it is worth doing. In health care, one would have to convince each one of the many thousands of firms.

So what do you think? Should we, in healthcare, look to other industries for improvement ideas? What has worked and what hasn’t? Are there some industries that healthcare should not emulate?

Join us Tuesday July 8th 2014 at 8:30pm Eastern Time (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr chat where we will be discussing:

  • T1: What other industries do you think healthcare can learn from? Why? Examples?
  • T2: What other industries should healthcare avoid emulating? Why? Examples?
  • T3: Do you agree with the current treat patients-as-consumers trend in healthcare?
  • CT: One thing you learned tonight that you can take back & use to help a patient or your organization tomorrow?


“Training and simulation for patient safety”, Aggarwal et al, Quality and Safety in Health Care, 2010, http://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/19/Suppl_2/i34.full.pdf%20html, accessed July 6 2014

“What can healthcare learn from aviation, gaming industries?”, Stephanie Baum, MedCity News, September 6 2013, http://medcitynews.com/2013/09/what-can-healthcare-learn-from-aviation-gaming-industries/#ixzz2e7WOiPk8, accessed July 6 2014

“Beyond Traditional Patient Safety Tools and Techniques”, Crico RMF Forum, March 2010, https://www.rmf.harvard.edu/~/media/Files/_Global/KC/Forums/2010/forumMarch2010.pdf, accessed July 6 2014

“What Healthcare Can Learn from Pixar’s Braintrust”, Katie McGraw, The Healthcare Blog, May 2 2014, http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2014/05/02/what-healthcare-can-learn-from-pixars-braintru/, accessed July 6 2014

“What can healthcare learn from other industries? 5 lessons”, Molly Gamble, Becker’s Hospital Review, August 31 2012, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/what-can-healthcare-learn-from-other-industries-5-lessons.html, accessed July 6 2014

“Disruptive Innovation: Can Health Care Learn from Other Industries? A conversation with Clayton M. Christensen”, Mark D Smith, Health Affairs, May 2007, http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/26/3/w288.full, accessed July 6 2014

“Healthcare Analytics: Patient Engagement – What Can We Learn from Other Industries?” Brad Stiler, Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, February 9 2014, http://www.psqh.com/january-february-2014/1830-healthcare-analytics-patient-engagement-what-can-we-learn-from-other-industries, accessed July 6 2014

“Where healthcare adopts best practices from other industries”, Peter Pronovost MD PhD, KevinMD.com, January 4 2014, http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/01/health-care-adopts-practices-industries.html, accessed July 6 2014

“Inspiration from Other Industries: More Tips for Healthcare Innovation”, Angela Dunn, HL7 Standards, November 21 2013, http://www.hl7standards.com/blog/2013/11/21/inspiration-from-other-industries-more-healthcare-innovation/, accessed July 6 2014

“Bringing Outside Innovations into Health Care”, Mike Wagner, Harvard Business Review Blog, October 28 2013, http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/10/bringing-outside-innovations-into-health-care/, accessed July 6 2014

Image Credit

“Air Canada – Boeing 777-300ER” by Eric Bégin https://www.flickr.com/photos/ericbegin/441468646/in/photolist-78RT9k-eMRnCj-jC3NVe-eMNdQB-5hR93y-m5D3BP-5hR8QE-8zR9R-z4vsg-4Ze11K-eQhrEM-nxMsBP-fjVsJ7-nDeyPS-8VLMn-6wUoU-F1Dfo-4Ywn4v-4YPzZC-8VLMk-f6efCu-39sTN-nSgPBP-f33a4j-HAkW4-ivPnzW-eMd5kx-9FTJsF-9eZB2h-apbD9G-5oeBLP-db5N41-eNX17L-F1DB7-kctTi4-4Ywz1z-2NvN2h-5oiTXW-69iMQq-8KXQ2S-7FTRKe-njsLr-fEQUTC-z4v7j-d94pU1-CXXix-z4viQ-aQwgnX-6DgoJ1-dcCFDb


  1. Reblogged this on the Front Door to Healthcare. and commented:
    Interesting discussion – there are absolutely lessons that can be learned from other industries like aviation…but are we taking it too far at times? Transferring “solution” too literally and directly into healthcare?

  2. Hi Colin,

    Sorry I missed your chat last night, as this is a subject I feel very strongly about. My take isn’t whether healthcare should or shouldn’t learn from other industries, but whether there’s even the slightest interest in doing so. Few industries have shown such intransigence in refusing to accommodate advances that might improve its dismal efficiency record. The industry consolidation we’re currently experiencing with ACOs may change that for the better, but even they’ve been unable to date to make much progress in delivering care more cost-effectively. I’d like to be more hopeful, but our experience with patient safety – or rather patient endangerment – doesn’t suggest great reason for optimism.

    Until this patient endangerment phenomenon is recognized as the crisis it’s become, the urgency required for broad adoption of proven safety measures will remain missing-in-action.

    1. Hello John.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Apologies for the tardy response.
      You are right that healthcare does suffer from “not invented here” disease and thus there is an unwillingness to look outside of the industry for innovation/advances. Having said that, I believe that there are more and more people in healthcare who are open to the idea of learning from others. In fact, there are many organizations who are looking to aviation, hospitality, manufacturing and other industries for inspiration. Progress is still glacial, but at least there’s movement. I do look forward to the day when hospitals are at least as safe as air travel – and that is saying a lot.

  3. […] year on #hcldr we explored the idea of what healthcare could learn from other industries (see blog) – which is another component of the ILN15 theme. Those of us inside healthcare can sometime […]

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