Healthcare Industry Insights from 30,000 Feet: Q&A With JetBlue Airways Cofounder Ann Rhoades

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Ann Rhoades, cofounder of JetBlue airways and a thought leader in the field of human resources, has recently introduced her brand of values-grounded leadership to the healthcare sector.

She founded People Ink, which seeks to take the corporate culture she developed in the airline and hotel hospitality industry – with its focus on customer service excellence and employee engagement – and adopt it to healthcare. She is co-founder and chief executive of CareLeaders, which helps U.S. hospitals attain top-class leadership, workforce and patient systems. She also serves on the executive council of the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice
, as well as on patient safety and quality task forces with the Texas Medical Institute of Technology.

HealthBiz Decoded caught up with Rhoades in between speaking engagements about the unexpected parallels between the airline and healthcare industries.

Q: You’ve spoken about how the healthcare sector can learn from the experiences in the airline industry. Where do you see the main parallels?

A: Until getting into it, I wasn’t certain. But I can tell you there are so many similarities.

The most obvious is we have the same workforce. We have very highly educated, bright people who have strong egos – they’re called captains and doctors.

And we have people who are put in very difficult situations every day. You have to have very strong players who are knowledgeable, who can react quickly. In hospitals, we have ERs. When there’s an incident on an airline, we always have to have people trained who are responsive and can immediately help people. So it’s a life and death situation in both environments many times

The analogies are so significant that they are now taking what we call in the airline world CRM – crew resource management – to the operating rooms. Once a year we train people to make sure they’re ready for all emergencies.

Q: Where do the similarities end between the two industries?

A: One thing I believe the airlines have, and I would use JetBlue as an example – is great leaders. The one problem I have found in healthcare is leadership.

The needs of both organizations are the same – they have to have strong leaders with strong values that behave in a way that is, to me, reflective of those values. The best hospitals that I’ve seen and really admire are the ones who have a leader who is as caring about the patients and family members as they are about their bonus and the financial side.

Q: How important is technology in ensuring the success of a healthcare provider?

A: Technology is the breaker. The ones who have the right technology and use it the right way will be the ones that are going to win in this game. The more knowledge you have that is correct on a patient, the better the outcome is going to be.

I think technology is honestly going to save us. I think with all the decreases in the margins we’re going to experience, the more we use technology and the more people get used to using it as a resource, the better.

Q: When training and developing the best staff for either industry, how do you ensure that job candidates have both the right values and technological know-how?

A: I think hiring people with the right values and behaviors is the critical part. You’re going to have few people, so you’re going to have to have better people in healthcare.

If you use technology, you show them how that will help them spend more time with the patient if they do this right. And it will help them know more about the patient. I think when you get the people that have the right values and you give them the support with technology, you get better outcomes. And they are happy in their jobs and they will not leave. Our model is, if you take care of your people internally, they will take care of the patients.

Q: Do you think the government push for Meaningful Use and more health IT makes training more complicated, or provides an opportunity to improve care?

A: Initially it takes more time. And what hospitals need to do, we need to take the time, money and effort to get that done. It’s only fair to the people who are going to be asked to use it, as well as the patients and their family.

If have a good IT system and you have good trainers, and you have people that facilitate the learning, you will have better outcomes. Our problem in healthcare is we don’t always have the money, or we don’t spend the time because we are overworked. Take the time upfront to train so that long term, the system will really help people.

Q: Do you see a role in the healthcare industry for upstarts, similar to how Southwest and JetBlue transformed the airline sector?

A: One example is these healthcare centers that take some of pressure of ERs and other healthcare givers for some of the simple things. We should build some more of these 24-hour clinics so we don’t overrun the ER.

Another other thing we’re creating is centers of excellence – hospital systems that are really well-known in the quality and safety side of the world for delivering exceptional care. What they’re going to do is get contracts from large employers to send their people there, and reimburse them at a higher rate if they go there. Because the opportunity to get it down right the first time is greater.

The great hospitals are going to become centers of excellence, so everyone is going to be competing in the world of quality and safety – which I think is phenomenal. I think building centers of excellence is going to be the key to survival and actually doing well in this environment.



Ann Rhoades is PRES (Person Responsible for Extraordinary Service) and founder of People Ink. Prior to founding People Ink Ann served as the Chief People Officer of Southwest Airlines, Promus Hotel Company (Doubletree Hotel, Homewood Suites, Embassy Suites, and Hampton Inn brands), and JetBlue Airways.

2 Responses to “Healthcare Industry Insights from 30,000 Feet: Q&A With JetBlue Airways Cofounder Ann Rhoades”

james boley

Great insightful, best thing I read in awhile its difficult ,sometimes to sift threw all the junk stories this is a great one big thumbs up Thank you