Five Things that Healthcare Can Learn from Financial Services


Five Things that Healthcare Can Learn from Financial Services

August 12, 2015
by Augusta Meill

Our money and our health: Two things we hate to talk about, and yet we’re deeply reliant upon the service providers who help us to manage them.

Both healthcare and financial services innovators are pushing for change in highly regulated environments that haven’t grown up around customer-centric practices. In both industries, the locus of power has traditionally been in the institution—and in both, power centers are being wildly disrupted, by entrepreneurs who disregard industry tradition, by consumers with increased access to tools and knowledge, by all three branches of the federal government.

Read on, and discover a few of the cross-over spaces in which healthcare can profit from the experiences of financial services. Change in a complex system can be a slog; so learn to draft off of these precedents to build momentum.

Think Across Channels

People are accustomed to believing that healthcare only occurs during that traditional moment of interaction between a physician and patient, or inside the MRI, or across a pharmacy counter. Of course it doesn’t. Healthcare happens in Google searches and in the decision to have a nectarine not a sundae for dessert and in the tussles people have with billing departments. It is insufficient to think of the moment of care as the totality of the experience.

One sees the same phenomenon in retail banking. Bankers love banks; customers do not. Bankers love big columned buildings where they can go each day to be experts. Customers want to deal with their money on their terms and in the flow of their lives.

In our work for BBVA, designing a new distribution model for banking, Continuum looked at digital, person-to-person, and physical/retail interactions together and holistically. We asked BBVA to consider, for the first time, how using the bank website at home and getting money from an ATM and buying a mortgage from an associate should be connected. We built a system in which a customer moved seamlessly and on his or her terms across channels, though a user interface that was consistent whether it was pulled up in the bank or at home or on a phone in a bodega.

Tremendous organizational will is required to work across silos in ways to which an organization may not be accustomed. The team responsible for building digital tools is not the same as the one that is building new facilities or training employees. Kaiser Permanente has begun to tackle this challenge in its Imagining Care Anywhere Vision. This provocation makes everyday life the place where care occurs, explores new models for care delivery, posits a technology-enabled ecosystem in which healthcare is pervasive, and envisions the digital tools that will connect care teams, environments, and individuals. Telling Kaiser’s story in videos and in an immersive environment allowed for a broad range of stakeholders to engage with and provide inputs to this vision, while building a common story of the future across this complex organization.

Acknowledge Differences

The new experience that we built with BBVA needed to work not only across types of interactions, but across types of people. BBVA was looking at a diverse customer base and an opportunity for growth that added new values and behaviors to the mix. From sophisticated customers accustomed to managing their own money remotely and confident in their decisions, to consumers seeking guidance and reassurance even in everyday transactions, this new model needed to span a range of preferences. Our modular system allowed the bank to deploy elements of the system strategically according to market need, and it brought together digital tools with personal support to allow the model to flex to both extremes. So while the super-user was comparing investments on her mobile, the new bank customer could be introduced to the ATM interface by an associate in a new small branch model.

This challenge is magnified in the healthcare context because we are dealing with a range of attitudes towards health across a range of medical modes. The same person looks to us differently when she is in crisis than when she is getting a prescription refilled. The spectrum is not binary, and we miss an opportunity if we only see simple oppositions such as “young invincibles” to aging and in-decline, healthy vs. living with chronic conditions, engaged or not.

In a program with United Healthcare, Continuum helped to set the foundation for an adaptive service model that marries data with human insights, empowering call center associates with the right information and tools to anticipate needs and meet customers where they are when they call, whether that is help with understanding what providers are in-network or support as they navigate a cancer diagnosis. The Advocate4Me program uses cues from customers’ data and behaviors to route them to the level of service associate best equipped to serve them—and provides those associates with more honed information so that they can do so in a manner that is empathic and responsive. The result has been a 96% customer satisfaction score.

It’s Personal

Our clients are used to spending the bulk of their days thinking about their organizations and their industries. Step outside of those corporate walls, however, and it’s a very different story. For patients it’s not about “accessing healthcare,” it’s about their lives. Or, in the financial services space, we have found through our contextual interviews that customers don’t think in the terms that bankers do. They think of their lives and goals. Savings, for example, are not abstract, but connected to specific goals, whether they are short term (a vacation) or long (college fund). Cash is not all the same, when some is earmarked for the rent payment and another chunk is set aside for a weekend of fun.

In a program with the World Bank, we designed financial products for the poorest women in Pakistan, a group that is currently largely excluded from formal banking systems but is often quite savvy in managing their money. In our reframing of a basic savings, loan, and smoothing products into terms that this audience could connect with, the products became so unrecognizable that at one point a client team member said, I don’t get it. This wasn’t about interest rates or loan terms or the language the industry is accustomed to, it was about getting your money this Eid (the major Muslim holiday) or next Eid. When a banker can’t recognize the term used for a financial product, you know you’re onto something customer-centered.

Closer to home, Brightpeak Financial, a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, engages customers in a much broader conversation than a transactional focus on the insurance products that it sells. On a website structured around the categories of “Live,” “Work,” and “Learn,” it offers content that speaks to customers’ direct concerns, from organic produce to marital stress to summer holidays. The site meets customers in the spaces where they already reside and speaks to the value of its products from this orientation. For example, it has Disability Insurance specifically targeted to stay-at-home parents, framing the value of the work that happens outside the traditional workplace.

A recent concept project completed by a strategist and designer here at Continuum explored how to make a food-tracking app that fits the mental models of real people, not the weird typologies of the food or weight loss industries. The team took a relative approach to behavior change, opting to design the app to help people make the change they want, rather than teach them a “correct” one. The system adapts to the user’s definition of healthy and supports them in making the change that is important to them, whether it’s about more veggies, portion control, or steering away from carbs and sugar.

Consider When to Be the Expert

Both healthcare and financial services are industries in which expertise and judgment matter. As consumerized as they become, there remains a vast difference between, say, buying a toaster on Amazon and tending your nest egg or deciding when knee replacement is necessary. But as expertise becomes commoditized and people come to expect more self-service or participatory experiences, the most sophisticated organizations are learning when to let their expertise shine and when to let people drive.

In its mission to democratize access to high-quality financial planning, LearnVest combines self-service tools with expertise. At sign-up, a LearnVest planner works with the customer to prepare a financial plan that provides a comprehensive view of his or her finances and to create goals and strategies for meeting these. Online tools, classes and content provide support in ongoing management, and LearnVest sets up “bite-sized to-dos” that are intended to propel folks towards progress. By offering a bolus of up-front expertise, the service sets people up to manage themselves intelligently in a continuing manner—while offering access to this professional know-how through a monthly subscription.

The acknowledgement that the best clinical data is only effective if it connects with patient realities is being demonstrated in healthcare too. The Mayo Clinic developed a philosophy around the use of decision aids for clinicians to have patient-centered conversations surrounding medication options and lifestyle changes. These aids help turn the decision-making process into a partnership between the clinician and patient, recognizing that each participant brings specific expertise. While the physician understands the facts and figures, the patient knows what can work in his or her life. Recognizing this joint expertise may lead to decisions that are more effective. Randomized trials studying the impact of a decision aid reveal results that include improved trust in the clinician, improved knowledge, and in one study, enhanced decision making and potentially improved drug adherence.

Meeting Expectations of Great Experiences

Today’s consumer lives in a fluid world, crossing channels and industries flexibly and bringing along experience models inherited from other categories. So our competitors now are not only those that are vying for our customer’s business, but those who are setting her expectations around great experience. As the analogous industry of financial services—bloated with complexity, risk, and regulation—transforms to more closely align with these expectations, we must look to them and other industries outside of our own, learn from their lessons and be catalyzed by their changes. Our patients certainly are.

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