Different Ways of Winning

January 29, 2016

Radiologists can’t be everything to everyone.

I seem to have developed something of a vacation-jinx. Ever since residency, if I head out of town there’s an excellent chance that some meteorological calamity will strike while I’m away. For instance, you might have heard of “superstorm” Sandy which paid a visit while I was clambering about the pyramids and tombs of Egypt. Friends and family in my neck of the woods have gotten accustomed to semi-blaming me for power outages, floods, etc. that tend to occur in my absence.

That isn’t to say that everything’s all cleaned up and hunky-dory when I get back. I have had the joy of digging out my plowed-in car from airport parking, and hearing a local transformer angrily expire as I was dragging my suitcase up to my front door. The recent blizzard Jonas (by the way, when did it become necessary to name every single weather system that crosses our path?), in particular, made sure to include me in its fun.

This particular vacay wasn’t a grand excursion to faraway lands…merely a few days in Florida for a refresher as to the look of palm trees and the feel of warm breezes. I’d gotten a cheap flight out of a local airport; Southwest is far from my favorite airline, but it was the only real option without driving further for bigger airports.

So, when my return flight got canceled with about 30 hours’ notice, and Southwest said the earliest they’d be able to get me back to my Podunk airport was three days later (not a bad excuse to enjoy more Florida sun…but work and half a dozen other factors stood in opposition to the idea), I scrambled to find seats on a JetBlue flight to one of those more-distant airports mentioned above. It was several hundred bucks more, and necessitated car service to get to the smaller airport so I could collect my vehicle from its lot.

I suppose there are a few ways I could have gotten good and angry at the airlines. Blame Southwest for failing to come up with better options than a three-day delay, for instance, such as by adding an extra flight or two in advance of the storm for those willing to get ahead of it. Blame JetBlue for gouging desperate customers like myself…did they really need to charge 3x what I had paid their competitor? As it stood, though, both companies came out as winners in my estimation.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"45393","attributes":{"alt":"multitask","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_1835461252120","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"5200","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 176px; width: 170px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©VIGE.CO/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Southwest, for instance, had already scored lots of points by having the lower fare in the first place, and flying out of an airport convenient to me. They then did me the solid favor of notifying me of my cancellation with enough time to do something about it (rather than giving me a nasty surprise at the check-in counter, the day of). My high estimation of them was secured when, rather than the usual airline nonsense of refusing to refund the cost of my ticket (such as by giving vouchers which expire in less than a year), they reversed my transaction with no hassles at all.

JetBlue, in turn, made themselves worth the extra cost to me by getting me the heck home ahead of the storm, when other airlines were canceling right and left. Indeed, a friend who was trying to make the same trip on an earlier flight than mine with another airline (he had never seen snow…really, that was his reason for trying to make the trip!) had been frustrated with cancellation.

In other words, it is unrealistic-and really not necessary-to be all things to all people for professional or entrepreneurial success, and this is just as true in our little corner of the health care biz. At the individual level, a rad need not boast expertise in every subspecialty nook and cranny to stand out as a “go-to guy” in one or two areas. Or he might not be a maven of any kind, but cultivate a reputation for being the one you want on your team for productivity. Or a cooperative spirit, good teamwork, innovative ideas, etc.

On a larger scale, a radiological group might strive to have it all-low turnaround times, subspecialty reads, infinitesimal error-rates, structured reports-but limited resources and inopportune circumstances often force prioritization. Maybe a small imaging center can’t hope to compete with the nearby mammoth academic center which is open 24-7-365 with the biggest names in the field; they might instead choose to be the place patients (and referrers) seek out for individualized service, whereas the larger competitor could not hope to accommodate all comers’ personal preferences and quirks.