Consumerism is the New Black in Healthcare

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It was nearly impossible to miss spirited discussions about “wearables” at the recent AHIP healthcare conference in Seattle. You may know them as their brand names, such as FitBit or Nike Fuel Bands. They are devices that sync a person’s activity to apps to create data dashboards. These dashboards then track individual progress and compare them to others. Health plans are working with their employer customers to offer wellness programs for members, and physicians are beginning to work with patients on health regimens that include tracking individual activity.
It’s no surprise that the industry is enthusiastic about this trend. Wearables combine two of the most important issues facing the healthcare industry today: data and the consumerism of the healthcare customer experience.
“Customer experience can’t be a bolt-on, or a department,” said former Trader Joe’s CEO Doug Rauch during a keynote about being more consumer-centric. “It must be in the culture. There must be congruence from top to bottom.” He added that there’s a tremendous opportunity to anchor our “humanness” in company culture and customer interactions. The advantage to healthcare companies is that they can apply the natural “humanness” already part of the healthcare ecosystem to improve the patient and member experience. They just need to get beyond their legacy culture and processes to do it.
There are great consumerism innovations happening in banking, travel, and retail, said Dr. Jerry Osband, chief medical officer at EXL. The challenge is applying these best practices to payers and provider systems. Some of his recommendations include:
  1. Meet the member where they want to be contacted
  2. Avoid the “catch and release” mentality and take a long-term view of consumer relationships
  3. Use relevancy, simplicity, and transparency to spur better informed consumer engagement
  4. Find the best incentives to encourage preferred actions; it’s not always discounts
  5. Align the payer side with practitioners to integrate health-related interactions
How are companies making this paradigm shift? One way is through technology. In addition to wearables that track activity, calorie intake, and sleep, other apps and back-end technology systems are gaining traction that tie a consumer experience to the business of healthcare. There were numerous mobile app vendors and analytics companies at the show that are developing personal health apps and wellness tools for individual consumers. Some tie into Google Maps, Siri, or IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology to make the experience as personal and relevant as possible. “The programs that will work will be engaging and allow you to use them on your time,” said Michelle Snyder, chief marketing officer of healthcare technology firm Welltok.
Another way to shift toward consumerism is to leverage the data that many health insurance companies and providers already have. “Data is driving how we manage members, how members want to be managed, and will allow sustainability,” said Keith Dunleavy, CEO of Inovalon during a keynote about data analytics. “Individual data matters, and it’s driving success and failure in the industry.” He added that, “we’re a pebble’s throw away from real-time analysis across large data sets at the point of care.”
While these conversations were great, the reality is that it’s still early on in the shift toward end-user customers. Consumerism is a nascent concept to the payer system. “Healthcare data is much more complex than other industries,” said Jim Dolstad, chief actuary at EXL. “The maturity isn’t up to the level yet to make a big impact.” He says he hopes that the industry will soon be able to give consumers what they need to make the right kind of healthcare choices.
And Jonathan Harding, chief medical officer for senior products at Tufts Health Plan, added that the key to the industry’s success will be changing inward focus to put customers first. “You have to look at every process and see how you can change it to focus on the member,” he says. 

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