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Drive Innovation September 21, 2017

Inventing the Future: Translating Feelings and Needs into Products and Services

Director, Marsh & McLennan Advantage, Healthcare
Key Takeaway
Even if your org. doesn't invent the next iPod, identifying consumer cues and reinventing itself are just as important.

The healthcare industry is facing increasing pressure to evolve to meet health consumer’s demand. We hear time and time again that the healthcare experience is cumbersome and disconnected. There are relatively minor hassles, e.g. the difficulty of obtaining a lab report or other health information, and there are major ones, e.g. the inability to determine what physicians and facilities can provide the highest quality, highest value care. At the same time, the cost for care is increasing for consumers, creating even greater expectations. Improving the customer experience in healthcare is the new battleground and there are ways to get ahead of the pack. As I discussed at this week’s Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) meeting, the industry needs to begin translating consumer feelings and needs into products and services.

One problem with surveys and focus groups is that people often don't know what they want until they see it. Who knew that they wanted an iPod, before they saw an iPod and had to have one? Apple, led by visionary CEO Steve Jobs, took its knowledge and intuition about how people relate to their music, applied it to available technology and design, and created a revolutionary device that no survey or focus group could have predicted.

Of course we can’t all be Steve Jobs, and our companies can’t all be Apple. We can, however, take a lesson from their approach. Last year Oliver Wyman surveyed over 2,000 American consumers─in the largest survey of its kind─about their feelings toward the healthcare system. Our objective was to understand how people relate to the system--the same way Apple understood how they relate to music and their personal electronic devices─and identify new ways for payers, providers, and other stakeholders to create a better experience. We can use consumers’ literal answers to help healthcare organizations experiment with a range of potential approaches to meet underlying needs that respondents themselves might not be able to articulate.

As we have discussed elsewhere, survey respondents expressed a number of needs and wants. A desire for increased convenience topped the list; respondents sought a healthcare experience that fit more seamlessly with the rest of their lives. Other themes included desire for guidance, both financial and clinical, and an interest in greater opportunities for social contact between individuals sharing similar medical or general life situations. Consumers also want personalization; not only did different segments of consumers express very different needs, but many explicitly asked for services tailored to them.

A systematic approach to new service innovation requires a combination of resource dedication, analytic sophistication, and flexibility that won't come naturally to most healthcare organizations.

How do we translate these feelings and needs into products and services? Each organization will have to apply its own ingenuity to that task, but here are some thought starters.

1. Caregiver Package: A set of services that makes life easier for caregivers, whether of children or aging parents or both. These services could include financial planning, savings and financing tools, transportation, daycare (for either adults or children), legal advice, and even telehealth options making it easier for caregivers, patients, and clinicians to communicate without an onerous office visit. Providers and payers could pool resources to offer such a package jointly.

2. Aging With Style: Looking to the future, Baby Boomers see the need to plan for a new way of life: downsizing their houses and expenses, being more concerned about wills and advance directives, dealing with the physical attributes of aging and the prospect of someday losing their independence. Perhaps as an attachment to a Medicare Advantage plan, Boomers could be offered help with a more optimistic form of planning; putting together goals for physical activities they want to be able accomplish or maintain over the next several years, supported by personal trainers and health coaches, access to a dedicated gym, and apps to track progress.

3. Introduction to Adulthood: Millennials (and soon enough the generation behind them) must learn how to manage their health and interact with the healthcare system. However, many don't feel as though they need to engage the traditional system at all. This is a challenge, as for payers, and increasingly for providers in accountable care arrangements, connecting to young, healthy people is key to building a sustainable risk pool. To attract this younger generation, organizations must go beyond traditional "sick care" and develop services that appeal to the healthy. Health clubs pitched to young people, with sports leagues, cooking classes, and wellness services, could help them develop an ongoing relationship with the sponsoring provider. Apps could connect them with fitness communities, performance trackers, and (by the way) online scheduling that makes it easy for them to find and make appointments for the healthcare they do need, whether it's a dermatologist, a gynecologist, or a therapist.

Healthcare organizations must start thinking about product development and management the way creative software companies do. Make brainstorming and other ideation processes a well-defined job responsibility for relevant members of your staff, with regular time set aside, not just an occasional "side of the desk" activity. Find external partners who have innovative ideas for reaching your target demographics. Try out ideas quickly rather than waiting for the perfect one, and be prepared to make changes as the market reacts. Develop performance metrics that will give you a rough indication of whether you are headed for a success or should change directions.

These steps may seem obvious, and indeed are already standard practice in many industries, but a systematic approach to new service innovation requires a combination of resource dedication, analytic sophistication, and flexibility that won't come naturally to most healthcare organizations. Nonetheless, it's well worth starting to make the necessary changes in personnel, processes, and even organizational structure. Even if your organization doesn't invent the next iPod, identifying consumer cues and reinventing itself are just as important.

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