Where Will We Land?

hot air balloons image
copyright Randy Cole

Have you ever been to the launch of a hot air balloon? It is really a spectacular sight! The pilot and his crew carefully stretch out the balloon on the ground, and begin to fill it with air with a large fan. Then, as they get closer to launch, they use a large propane-fired burner mounted above the wicker basket and below the opening of the balloon to heat the air in the balloon, and it begins to rise off the ground. When all is ready and all the lucky passengers are on board, with a pull of the controls the burner fires again and the balloon and basket head skyward, drifting along on the unseen breeze.

A hot air balloon flight might seem random, but good pilots are aware of the weather conditions and wind direction, and have a general idea where they will head as they leave the ground.

I feel a metaphor coming on…

Healthcare organizations are like hot air balloons. Balloons are affected by the prevailing winds, which while unseen can be sensed, measured, and calculated. Healthcare is affected by changing systems, payment structures, demographics, and other trends. Just like in ballooning, there is always some uncertainty, and it is tempting to stay on the ground (do nothing) rather than risk taking to the air and landing in an unexpected place.

A hot air balloon on the ground is safe. But that’s not what hot air balloons are for.

There is always risk to any flight. However, risk can be mitigated with attention to the details. Whether this is a healthcare organization’s understanding of its patient base, their needs, and how best to serve them, or a healthcare architect’s attention to siting and building design to positively affect the experience of clinicians and patients who use the facility, all can contribute to the same wonderful experience that a balloon flight is for those who are bold enough to take flight.

So lay out the balloon carefully, make sure all is prepared as best possible, and trust that you understand the conditions. “Everyone in and ready? Here we go!”

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