10 years and a pandemic later, I knew it was time to leave the Qantas medical department/corporate world to follow my passion for building my own business and to provide aviation health solutions back to the environment I had worked in for so long. I aimed to produce innovative solutions for airlines that would improve their systems and processes, especially when it came to medical clearances.
We set out to solve the current paper form-based airline medical clearance process, which is manually completed by doctors, patients, hospitals, travel agents, and airlines' customer service and in-house medical teams. Our solution is to develop a digital health solution with clinical logic to automate the application process, providing instant approval once all fields have been entered by the treating clinician. This will enhance the customer experience, prevent the airline from chasing practitioners for further information, and reduce the complexity of paper-based forms, privacy concerns, and data storage for airlines.
Tell us more about the market or impact of this problem - why is it important?
Most airlines require passengers with certain medical conditions or post-surgery to have a medical professional assess them, their condition, and travel plans to ensure they meet all of the airline's medical clearance guidelines. These guidelines, set by the IATA Aviation medical advisory group, address conditions likely to cause an in-flight medical event. This can result in aircraft diversion, causing great cost and disruption to passengers, the airline, and the crew. With 5000 commercial airlines worldwide and the industry set to have over 7 billion travellers by 2025, addressing this problem is crucial. The aging global population and increasing complex medical conditions, combined with rising travel accessibility, further emphasises the importance of efficient medical clearance processes.
Why are you interested in solving this problem?
Having specialised in aviation health for the last 20 years, working in Australian airlines' medical departments, I've personally experienced the manual approval and checks process for medical clearance applications. Recognising the need for an automated system that requires less hands-on involvement from busy healthcare professionals, I aim to streamline the process. Customer frustration with the current system, along with their uncertainty about application approval, motivates me to provide a solution. Additionally, I intend to educate doctors on the reasons for medical clearance, as well as altitude physiology, fostering better understanding and collaboration.
Can you share a specific personal or professional goal that you hope to accomplish through your involvement in the program, and how does this goal align with your motivations?
I aim to provide innovative solutions in the aviation health space for airlines as their customer numbers increase, the complexity of travel increases, and management of their workers also becomes more challenging. Ensuring that health and well-being are at the forefront of our technology and ensuring all of our products and services provide time back to time-poor clinicians, be it within the airline medical teams, the doctors, or hospitals interfacing with these teams on behalf of customers and the customers themselves who airlines aim to increase the customer experience and safety of all. These goals align with my motivation for the last 30 years of my career, always aiming to solve problems with innovative technology, digital health, and AI.
What do you believe are the most critical healthcare challenges today, and how can programs like this help address them?
In today's healthcare landscape, a significant challenge revolves around the scarcity of resources, encompassing both human capital and technology. This shortage becomes evident where skilled professionals face burnout, fatigue, and a lack of adequately trained healthcare workers to handle the growing patient volume. Post-pandemic, our experienced healthcare workforce is slowing down, compounding the issue. Rural communities struggle with inadequate resources, while urban healthcare facilities are stretched thin. Local GP accessibility has dwindled, leading to weeks-long wait times.
Public hospital waitlists are on the rise, and emergency departments are overwhelmed by urgent cases. Some medical groups are establishing private emergency centers, catering mainly to those who can afford it. However, navigating the entrepreneurial side of healthcare is rarely addressed during tertiary education, leaving practitioners unprepared to solve everyday healthcare challenges. AUSCEP breaks this mold, empowering clinicians to explore possibilities, find solutions, and foster entrepreneurial thinking. This program provides a unique opportunity to connect with mentors who've navigated the clinical entrepreneurship path successfully, alongside a community sharing common goals of enhancing patient outcomes and healthcare delivery.
How do you envision the future of healthcare?
I see healthcare evolving utilising technology in many different ways and also with any luck changing the way we expose and train clinicians throughout their education journey to learn other aspects of healthcare outside of their specific field. The more we inspire clinicians to undertake programs like this, the greater the success and innovations we will see; these, in turn, I expect will improve overall outcomes for patients and the healthcare system. Innovation using technology will allow for greater time efficiencies, making it possible for clinicians to spend more time on those tasks that require human connection or input, save money through creating time-efficient solutions, that will also be scalable to reach a broad and wider audience to address disparity in the population of healthcare services.
How has the program helped you gain clarity on the intersection between your clinical practice and your entrepreneurial aspirations, and what impact has this had on your motivation?
I am fortunate that I have been working in this space for some time in my corporate career, and every day I was thinking about how a process could be improved as I undertook the process manually. Therefore, I feel I had clarity on the idea and what the solution needed to look like. My challenge was how to find the right team and make strong connections with trusted sources to allow me to move my idea from paper to an MVP and beyond.
The AUSCEP experience has allowed me to fast-track my idea by having mentors and 1:1 connections with industry experts; this has greatly reduced the time I would usually have to spend finding the right person to advise me on various business matters and has greatly reduced the risk of making the wrong connections, which you find out usually after spending a lot of money and waiting a lot of your valuable time.
These connections through AUSCEP have saved me immense hours and also have given me the freedom to find the solution and start building it in such a short timeframe. This has given the space for clear thinking and to not have to be so restricted in what I could achieve in the same time without this assistance.
Any advice for clinicians interested in healthcare entrepreneurship?
My advice would be to be brave, have a go, however, seek out a program like AUSCEP, particularly if you haven't been down the entrepreneurial pathway previously. This program provides a safety net somewhat, great mentorship, and advice cannot be understated. No one person can know it all. Generally, the mentors have either seen or experienced first-hand similar problems and issues when they started their entrepreneurial journeys, so sharing with them and listening to their advice is highly recommended.
What do you have to lose - probably a lot more if you try to go it alone with no support or advice from trusted advisors. Being a healthcare entrepreneur is essential for the continued success of healthcare in Australia. It's not for everyone so, therefore, anyone who feels like they might be interested should explore opportunities further as we need as many great and successful ideas to come to life if we are to advance healthcare within this country.
About Whitney Luxford
Whitney is a qualified and AHPRA registered paramedic who specialised in Aviation Medicine and Health. She has completed the Australasian Certificate of Civil Aviation Medicine. Whitney most recently was the Manager, Aviation Health for the Qantas Group of airlines and previously Aviation Health specialist for Virgin Australia. Whitney worked for NSW Ambulance as a paramedic for several years before seeing an opportunity to put her pre-hospital clinical skills to good use within airlines and their medical departments. In 2011 she established the Virgin Australia medical department. In 2014 she commenced at Qantas and has led change in passenger and crew health programs as well as policy change management for alcohol and drugs policies and other health related policies and programs. During the pandemic she was the senior clinical lead on two repatriation missions from Wuhan, China to Australia. Whitney has worked in the Commonwealth Department of Health with the CMO - Professor Paul Kelly early in the pandemic to streamline contact tracing between health and airlines, she worked at Howard Springs quarantine facility as part of the AUSMAT team creating a cabin and flight crew base for repatriation flights in and out of Darwin bringing home Australians during the pandemic.