Ram Rajaraman

9 March 2021

Managing healthcare patient flow and airport passenger flow: the similarities and lessons that can be shared

At first glance, it’s difficult to draw many similarities between the healthcare sector and airports; whilst the former is concerned with treating, rehabilitating and curing the unwell, the latter is about the perceived glamorous world of international travel. Total opposites, right? Well yes… and no.

Working with ADB Safegate, a global leader in delivering airport performance solving operational bottlenecks from approach to departure, has brought to light the reality that healthcare patient flow and airport passenger flow overlap more than you might expect. Both of these diverse industries actually operate on similar principles, with the end goal of healthcare to ensure patient safety and quality of care whilst the airport industry is focused on delivering passengers safely and timely arrival to their destination of choice.

Similarities between healthcare and airport flow

If we view a patient in the healthcare system in the same way that we view a passenger travelling through an airport, then we see that both are embarking on a journey in which planning, turnaround, throughput and patient/ passenger satisfaction are key elements. Furthermore, optimising efficiency, speed of transfers, reducing costs to the provider and maintaining passenger/ patient satisfaction levels are also critical for both types of service, however diverse they may appear on the surface.

Both airport and hospital settings are subject to regular ebbs and flows of passengers/ patients, depending on a range of predictable factors such as the time of year (winter seasons/holidays and celebrations being busy times in both settings) and less predictable factors (such as COVID-19, which caused a surge in COVID-19 related acute hospital admissions and a dramatic reduction in international travel).

Automation of services

It’s difficult to imagine a time when airport flow could have been managed without anything but the highest level of automated support, even in the early days of air travel. Fast-forward to 2019 – when an estimated 81 million passengers passed through Heathrow Airport alone – and the need for reliable automation has never been greater. Although passenger numbers have since fallen sharply as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry depends upon and requires reliable, accurate, predictive and real-time technology for airport flow to operate smoothly and safely.

While the healthcare sector is ahead in adopting predictive and real-time technologies, it has been slower in taking the step to automation of patient flow and bed management with the airport sector demonstrating the impact of automation in passenger and baggage flow. Just like airport flow, hospital admissions and discharges can only be effectively managed with the right systems in place to support throughput.

Where do issues in healthcare and airport flow overlap?

In terms of operations, efficiency and staffing, there are various issues within the healthcare sector that align closely with airport flow. We can see from the table below where overlap occurs and the closest comparisons can be drawn between the sectors.

Solutions and data-driven decision making

As we can see, healthcare and airport flow are, in fact, aligned much more closely than one might imagine. In short, both industries are predominantly people-focused and depend on a smooth flow of said people – whether passenger or patient – to operate effectively.

Automated systems which use high quality data analytics to inform workforce and capacity requirements and can make reliable predictions are essential in order for healthcare providers and airports to operate close to optimal levels; improving efficiency, reducing costs and improving outcomes for passengers and patients alike.

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