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    United Airlines fiasco should be a healthcare wakeup call

    Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Stephen C. Schimpff, MD, a quasi-retired internist, professor of medicine and public policy, former CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center, and author. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.

     

    The forcible removal of a passenger from the United Airlines flight has reminded flyers of their general dissatisfaction with the airline industry. Perhaps surprisingly, it should also be a stern warning to physicians. The brunt of dissatisfaction in healthcare delivery will fall on the providers, although the real culprits are the insurers—they too should take notice.

     

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    The airlines do not appreciate the real basis for the outburst by the traveling public. The forcible eviction, despicable as it was, was really just the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Airline travel was once a special, adventurous part of the journey. Today, it is an undesirable but necessary means to an end. Why? Because the airlines treat their customers with disrespect at every part of the process. It is not just United—it is all of the airlines. The uproar is not about the rules, “the contract of carriage,” but about the manner in which airlines think about their passengers—definitely not customers who deserve respect. Respect and dignity are the key words.

    The public’s general consensus: it's not fun anymore. There has been complete loss of autonomy and dignity, and flyers often feel they are herded like cattle with total loss of all control and definitely not treated as valued customers.

    In any business, for profit or not-for-profit, it is true that "no money, no mission," but money has become the mission.

     

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    Such is the case with much of healthcare. Patients are frustrated feeling that they are not respected, not afforded autonomy and not valued. As a retired physician and academic hospital CEO, I have witnessed and felt the transformation within medicine over the past 50 years. As with the airlines, most physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other staff are all well-meaning and caring. But patients are at the breaking point. In short, the patient is not treated like a valued customer but more like a commodity.

    Next: Physicians are in a bind as well

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    • [email protected]
      In the article you elude to the fact that patients can not pay additional monies for more time with their physician. That's not true, think of concierge medicine providers, for a small monthly stipend or membership you have carte blanche with your primary care provider. I did enjoy the comparison to poor service as realized most recently by the airlines.
    • Anonymous
      A very good article. How can we create space for the physician and patient again? I am hopeful that the direct pay model for primary care physicians will provide for an opportunity for physicans and patients to counter balance the central planning trends of the last 50 years. Unfortunately, we may be too late. Our physican organizations dropped the ball decades ago.
    • Anonymous
      A very good article. How can we create space for the physician and patient again? I am hopeful that the direct pay model for primary care physicians will provide for an opportunity for physicans and patients to counter balance the central planning trends of the last 50 years. Unfortunately, we may be too late. Our physican organizations dropped the ball decades ago.

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