How health care is like an airline

A rapidly consolidating industry. One that generally delivers on very difficult work, but with such a horrible customer-service reputation that people hate dealing with it. Known for wringing every last dollar out of its customers. You and the person next to you may be paying wildly different prices.

Health care, or an airline?

It’s a common comparison, and not without merit.

  • Harvard doctor and researcher Ashish Jha invoked the metaphor last year, in response to a non-profit hospital telling investors that it was trying to boost admissions: “Every extra passenger they can squeeze in is profit,” Jha said.
  • Here’s Brent Miller, a nephrologist at Indiana University, explaining to Modern Healthcare why most dialysis patients are treated in facilities instead of at home: “An empty chair is kind of like an empty seat on an airplane. If we were just looking at this not as people and not as health care but just as a business like an airline, our goal would be to fill all those slots.”
  • And, for the trifecta, here’s Elizabeth Rosenthal, writing in Kaiser Health News: “Just as airlines have been shown to exaggerate flight times so they can boast about on-time arrivals, hospitals set prices crazy high so they can tout their generous discount.”

The bottom line: In all seriousness, this analogy does get at an underlying problem with health care: As much as providers love to talk about new payment models, volume is still king — it’s simply too lucrative to give up.