Personalized Healthcare – Is It Really About Me?

This post is part of our “Driving Transformation” series, in which Mercer consultants share key take-aways for employers from the 2016 Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit, a recent conference hosted by Mercer’s sibling firm, management consultant Oliver Wyman.  

One idea that was explored in great depth at the conference was that the transformation of healthcare will be driven by the consumer. But how would that work when consumers don’t really speak with a single voice? Can true transformation occur when every consumer is different, with unique preferences? In fact personalized healthcare is happening already and research is showing some encouraging results.

During the conference I had an opportunity to participate in an onsite tour of an organization that is passionate about understanding consumer behavior to shape personalization and ultimately achieve better outcomes. Emmi Solutions supports healthcare systems and physician groups by providing communication technology that allows them to extend their reach with virtual patient interactions – but without losing the human touch. For example, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and is presented with options by her treating provider – lumpectomy with radiation/ chemo or mastectomy.  Emmi provides a decision support video that explains in simple language (no medical terms) and images what to expect on each path she might choose – what it might feel like; how she might look in a party dress or swimsuit. The intent is to connect with the consumer to help her understand what each option entails and how she might react, so she can be prepared with relevant questions when she next meets with her physician.  

Behind the solution is some great research in understanding consumer behaviors. Demonstrated success in improving patient engagement has been linked to a few key principles:

  • Shared decision-making is paramount to better relationships that are sustained over a longer period of time. Finding ways to help consumers make their own decisions and be involved in the process results in better engagement.
  • Connect with consumers the way they want to be connected with – through words, graphics and other modalities. Meet consumers where they are by listening to individual needs.
  • Make it simple. Even the most complicated medical conditions need to be explained simply.

As employer health plan sponsors know, consumers don’t always act rationally when purchasing services. But, as the work of this organization shows, executing on the fundamental goal of understanding the consumer by listening and connecting in ways that make sense to them, is an important step toward a more rational consumer experience.

The idea of “is it really about me” can be further explored in Dr. Kyra Bobinet’s book, “Well Designed Life,” which discusses how neuroscience can be used to change behavior. The book shares key insights into why people do what they do and how they can change by understanding personal motivations.   Her research is based on the point of view that an individualized approach is central to bringing change.  She also acknowledges that the change game is never over and challenges people to “keep tinkering with the design.” 

Personalizing the experience is not just about a different plan design or cool technology. It is about working relentlessly to understand the consumer – who they are, where they are – and about continued focus on making it simple. Consider how transformative the experience would be if all your vendor partners focused on consumer behavior to deliver better engagement. So strive for it!  Probe any partner supporting your employee healthcare experience throughout the system to show how and where they are using consumer science for better outcomes. Demand that they “make it simple and make it about me.” That’s what your employees want….are you listening?

Katie East
by Katie East

Partner, Health, Mercer

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