Health Care’s Frequent Flyers

Airlines and hotels have long used points and rewards to motivate their customers. Now a new crop of companies wants to do the same thing for health care.

NEW YORK – For those of you who have seen the (American) movie “Up in the Air,” think of the scene where George Clooney meets Vera Farmiga. He’s an outsourced human-resources executive who flies around the country firing people on behalf of timid managers; she’s a counterpart female road warrior. Their courtship ritual revolves around loyalty cards: he pulls out his American Airlines Executive Platinum card; she matches. Next, his Diamond VIP Hilton HHonors card; she calmly slaps hers on the rickety table where they are sharing drinks.

The unspoken message: points make you sexy. Airlines and hotels have known this for a long time. Dean Margolis, who long ago consulted for major airlines and is now applying the same techniques to healthy behavior, recalls wondering how to get executives to fly just a little more.  It’s not by offering discounts, which benefit an executive’s company rather than the executive. Margolis asks: “When the boss says ‘Who wants to come to Philadelphia with me?’, what’s going to get two people instead of one to say yes? To abandon their families, stand in line, and perhaps take a middle seat...”

Points, of course, will do the trick. The promise of being recognized at the airline counter, ushered to the front of the line, and, yes, looking like a big shot at the airport bar.

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