Monday, May 19, 2014

Make The Mission

I blew it.

By declaring I wasn't going to post on this blog, taking Monday off, I cheated myself.

It's hard for me to keep my fingers from expression of opinion. Traveling to and from Arcata, watching with huge parent pride my daughter graduate from college and spending some great time with my kids and wife in the magic of the Northern California redwood forests, inspiration is hard to ignore.

Panorama from the top of Trinidad Head
Remember that 41M doesn't have an operable auto-pilot presently and that I had to fly round trip without the magic of that computer - and that this made my wife nervous.

Obviously we made the trip successfully and safely. It was a lot more work than with an auto-pilot, and there were some moments where it was obvious to me that hand flying across county for 3 or more hours with additional landings en route induced a bit of fatigue.

The thing with airplanes is that they operate in a true three dimensional world. There are about 600,000 people in the United States that understand this implicitly (that's the approximate number of licensed pilots according to the Federal Aviation Administration). Most everyone else does not appreciate this fact because if you don't experience it first hand (i.e. fly an airplane) it is very difficult to comprehend.

Most of us live in, essentially, a two dimensional world, dictated by gravity. We know maneuvering forward and backward and side to side.

Up in the air, though, one can maneuver up and down (pitch), side to side (yaw) and one tilt to the other (roll). There isn't the security of gravity underneath us.

Without an auto-pilot this three dimensional world in an airplane requires constant monitoring and machine handling adjustments as the pilot attempts to maintain altitude and course within FAA prescribed standards: check this instrument, make that adjustment; oops that affected some other flight characteristic, check some other instrument, make another adjustment, etc., etc., etc.

This happens probably hundreds of times an hour, even with a perfectly trimmed aircraft; stuff that is easily handled by a computer to better standards than a tired human.

The job gets more difficult when the air isn't smooth, and all of those adjustments are made even frequently.

In the meantime there's the job of paying attention to and talking on the radio, dialing different frequencies on several different radios, programming or altering the programming in the GPS system, making minor course corrections, looking out for other aircrafts - the tasks are endless.

And the biggest burden on the pilot become even more obvious - decision making. None of the inputs to control or manage the aircraft comes without decision making.

An auto-pilot handles a lot of decision making: pitch up or down, rolls side to side, all in response to the dynamics of air flow and desired time and place in space. Being without an auto-pilot heightened for me the pilot's responsibility for the task of decision making because of the greatly increased frequency for doing so.

Workers' compensation has a lot of automation in it now - we've gone over this in prior posts. The automation generally comes about from the law or regulation: utilization review, bill review, medical guidelines, billing codes, office processes, etc. If you really take a look at how workers' compensation is managed in the present time much of it is left on auto-pilot.

There are rules and regulations that dictate that one process happens before another process. In many cases procedure trumps substance and form dictates function.

Decision making has been relegated to programmed procedure.

As a consequence every one is expected to do more with less: doctors are to do more with less autonomy, claims examiners are to do more with fewer resources, nearly everyone is expected to keep costs down by managing increased volume.

Lost in the volume is the impact on the claim; the individual at the center of the claim, the injured worker, many times doesn't get the benefit of experienced decision making because the professional's experience is delegated to a process dictated by law or rule.

We think that the laws, regulations and rules are things we can't do anything about. But there is an overriding rule in aviation that should apply to workers' compensation - at the end of the day it is up to the pilot in command to make the final decision: whether to accept an instruction from Air Traffic Control, whether to fly in questionable weather, whether to land on a particular runway, what altitude to fly, when to climb or descend.

The decisions are multitudinous and continuous, all have an impact on the quality and safety of flight, and all of that decision making doesn't end until the engine is shut down and everyone has exited the plane.

And all of that decision making is up to the single most important factor in any flight: the pilot.

If you are reading this blog then you are someone who is a pilot in command of the airplane we call workers' compensation. Understand the risks, know where you want to go, and don't let automation get in the way of a successful mission.

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