Healthcare Executives Adjust to the New Customer World

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
Nearly every session and keynote at the recent World Health Care Congress focused on the theme that consumers, once a secondary business consideration in the industry, have shot to the forefront of healthcare business strategy.

"The big change in the world is that patients are taking control." The remarks from TEDMED's Jay Walker at last week's World Health Care Congress captured the prevailing sentiment of the conference for medical and healthcare executives. Nearly every session and keynote focused on the theme that consumers, once a secondary business consideration in the industry, have shot to the forefront of healthcare business strategy.Legislative reform isn't the only thing causing this shift, but it does play a large role in the urgency of the situation. New laws and regulations are opening up the healthcare industry to greater customer choice. This means that retention and competition for the consumer is greater than ever. There is also now more emphasis on preventative wellness and influencing behavior change to improve overall consumer health, which drives down costs. And the best way to influence change is with a deep understanding of patients and individual consumers. Consumer expectations from other industries have permeated the healthcare ecosystem as well. They expect a better experience than what was status quo in the past.

Much of the current healthcare system is centered around costs, which often leaves the patient lower on the priority list, explained Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of provider Dignity Health. Instead, it's more cost-effective and morally right to put the patient at the center of the healthcare system. "We all know that putting patients at the center of strategy leads to better healthcare," Dean said. "It's not easy, but the present model is not sustainable."

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini added that the current model isn't sustainable because it's so fragmented. "The healthcare system is like watching a hockey game where everyone has their own puck," he told the audience during his keynote. Instead, the system should align around customers.

Matt Manders of Cigna challenged the audience to look outside the healthcare industry at companies such as USAA, to learn how to understand and interact with customers. "Satisfaction isn't about greatness," he said. "It's about expectation and communication. We want to anticipate needs and offer solutions before [members] ask for them." Cigna is in the middle of a customer transformation journey based on three tenets: providing patient-specific information, aligning incentives, and clinical integration. That means breaking down traditional barriers and silos. "If you're going to deliver a superior customer experience, an organizational chart is the least important thing in the world," Manders said.

Marc Ruggiano, Peppers & Rogers Group's Global Healthcare Practice leader, chaired a panel discussion with Manders and Eric Roberts of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care on the topic of competing in the new consumer market. "Leading players like Cigna and Harvard-Pilgrim are taking these challenges to heart," Ruggiano commented after the session. "Both Eric's and Matt's organizations have clearly embraced this expanded focus. While they are following different paths to get there, both are headed to the same destination: a future where consumers play a much bigger role in healthcare decisions that affect them, and where the industry embraces this change and delivers better outcomes more efficiently and with a better customer experience across the board."

Pharma company GlaxoSmithKline also shared its customer-centric journey during the conference. Jack Bailey, senior vice president of Policy, Payers and Vaccines, explained that the company realigned its business model "to focus on the things our customers are looking for - more products of value and improved customer engagement." That means fewer customer touchpoints and more account alignment and coordination, so multiple account members don't contact providers and other customers numerous times. The biggest change has been the elimination of volume-based incentives for its sales staff. "The old way was to incentivize on the number of prescriptions per quarter," he told the audience. "Now we're incentivizing employees to do the right thing. We're moving from volume to value, and creating partnerships with physicians."

And as I wrote last week from the conference, Target is expanding its pharmacy and clinic services, bringing the best of healthcare and retail together.

The overall theme of the conference was a mix of excitement and trepidation. There are many changes afoot, and most companies are blazing new trails, especially when it comes to customer centricity.

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