Health Care

Via Christi borrows from aviation industry to improve patients’ care

For some aviation industry workers, the future is in health care.

In an effort to improve patient safety, Via Christi Health has hired people with experience in aviation to streamline processes used in health care.

Officials also hope to reduce waste and costs, said Al Miller, executive director for quality and process improvement for Via Christi.

“We’re asking, ‘Can we bring aviation and the safety focus from aviation and those best practices? How do you do practice diagnostics and analysis and bring that into health care to improve the safety of the patient and experience?’ ” Miller said.

The effort is part of Via Christi’s strategic plan, which will be announced at the system’s upcoming Vision 2020 event. Community members who wish to see the event can watch it at 8 a.m. Feb. 5 online at

The process improvement team uses a five-step problem solving method called Six Sigma to improve processes and performance within the hospitals and clinics.

Teams include those who came from aviation, health care workers and a patient, and they are focusing on four different areas: heart failure, pneumonia, surgical care and hospital acquired infections.

Those are areas assessed by federal officials and related to hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement.

Via Christi’s goal is to have 100 percent compliance in all the areas, Miller said.

The latest efforts have been in development since April 2012, and the Center for Clinical Excellence has gone from a staff of six to more than 20.

Staff members are now classified as Black Belt, Green Belt and Yellow Belt – terms borrowed from the manufacturing industry based on levels of training. To reach those levels, Via Christi is paying for staff members to take online training courses and to work on projects related to the training.

“I cannot fly an airplane, buck a rivet or do an avionics check, but I can work with a mechanic and improve his life. I can do the same thing here,” said Laura Thompson, manager for process improvement who has 25 years experience in aviation at Cessna and Boeing as an industrial engineer and Black Belt.

“My job has not changed, it’s just applying it to health care.”

Thompson said part of her decision to change industries was the decline in the aviation.

“I’ll be honest, it’s not so good right now. But health care is flourishing and growing,” she said.

Miller said that government measures in the aviation industry and health care are equally rigorous.

“We’re in the mind frame to deal with the Joint Commission like we do with the FAA,” Thompson said. “Always have your ducks in a row, have your data ready and be doing the right thing so you’re not scrambling.”