Part 2: The future of Healthcare is now.

The Challenge.

In a previous post, we talked about the user challenges and opportunities Obamacare presents for health insurers.

Back in 2011, our “Driving Health Insurer Success Through Digital” white paper advised that “health insurers will need to create highly relevant digital experiences that are more in line with what consumers have come to expect in managing other aspects of their lives, such as shopping, finances and travel.”

It’s a conclusion with particular relevance for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the trade association for 38 independent, locally operated Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® companies. As part of its overall strategy to become more consumer-focused, BCBSA identified its provider search (the “doctor finder”) as a key inflection point in the larger customer journey.

BCBSA also recognized that a best-in-class provider search will pay dual dividends: increase the brand loyalty of its 100MM members via deeper engagement and delight, while capturing the interest of non-member healthcare shoppers.

The Approach.

Extensive usability testing had already convinced BCBSA that its existing “doctor finder” experience wasn’t consistently meeting member needs – let alone acting as a competitive differentiator.  So the next step for BCBSA was partnering with Acquity Group and leveraging our user-centered approach: innovation that grounds the consumer’s POV squarely in the middle of every experience we concept and design.

BCBSA agreed that the success of a “rip it up and start again” provider search would hinge on three key factors:

  • Multiple rounds of design research that would continually hone BCBSA’s perspective and guarantee stakeholder alignment
  • An iterative design-and-test protocol ensuring that our solutions were usable, actionable and engaging in the exact way we intended them
  • Strong collaboration between BCBSA and Acquity Group to ensure project delivery completed within a tight timeline

The Insight.

We kicked off our primary research with a broad review of competitive provider search applications. Then, buoyed by our understanding of the competitive landscape, we did in-home interviews with medical decision-makers. The combination of real-time observations and the personal histories we collected revealed that “doctor finder” applications are too-often the province of deep messiness and confusion – and that active dissatisfaction is rampant.

This dissatisfaction often stems from healthcare’s miscalculation about how consumers search for doctors or procedures. Finding a surgeon isn’t as simple as buying a book on Amazon. The insurance industry may want “value” to be a driver, but consumers comparing health care options are looking for a relationship with another human being. Finding a qualified doctor is critical, but healthcare shoppers also want someone who’s compatible with their personal interaction style. As one health care shopper put it, “You want to have that person that knows you. It’s a relationship, where you just feel comfortable. You feel like you’re taken care of, medically.”

This consumer-centric definition of what actually makes a good doctor explains many of the behaviors and attitudes we observed. Healthcare shoppers cast a wide net, consulting many different sources – both online and offline – to find the exact information they want. Most providers feel the search process resembles shopping, when in fact it’s a completely different mindset. Shoppers are actually willing to invest time and effort to get a “feel” for the professionals they’re considering.

We weren’t surprised by these attitudes. What floored us, though, was the extent to which they govern our target users’ behavior. Healthcare shoppers use a staggering number of inputs: social contacts, medical staff, Google searches, Yelp reviews, hospital profiles, online communities and more. There’s no shortage of information. But instead of building confidence, the amount of “noise” often leads to frustration. There has to be a better way.

The Design.

Driven by our research insights, we completely reframed BCBSA’s entire provider finder experience. We quickly realized that the real challenge wasn’t perfecting a search engine, but building a better system to house the various amounts of “noise” and prioritizing what of that information was important to a particular consumer.

Think about it this way: when you buy a plane ticket, your focus is completing the transaction in the most efficient way possible. But when planning a vacation, you’re willing to dream and explore; the promise of the trip outweighs efficiency’s pull. Emotional engagement becomes vital to the process. That need for emotional engagement would drive our interaction and design work for BCBSA’s new tool.

During the second phase of the design process, we brought consumers in again, this time testing conceptual validity via paper-based interface prototypes. Our research participants confirmed that we were on the right track and offered clear opportunities for revision. Healthcare shoppers may search far and wide for information, but they yearn for a “one-stop shop,” a single source of verified information that puts them firmly in control.

The Implications.

Repeatedly engaging consumers made all the difference to our ultimate design, and dramatically changed how BCBSA thinks about its provider search. Most provider search apps are great at surfacing cost and quality data. But they focus on healthcare-centric awards and recognitions that don’t mean much to most shoppers. Even worse, the information they surface may be confusing and suspicious, not just unimportant, to overwhelmed users.

We’re now deep into the “Age of the Customer.” Access to information still matters, but the overall experience is now primary. Delivering the digital tools that consumers need is a baseline expectation. The smartest companies work overtime to guarantee that their tools are both easy to use and emotionally engaging. It’s a commitment requiring a deep understanding of user needs, behaviors, attitudes and motivations. And it often starts with a willingness to take chances with the status quo.

So how can healthcare organizations, specifically, leverage these opportunities? Healthcare insurers occupy a critical position, operating as intermediary between provider, patient and employer. This unique position offers a real opportunity to leverage those various relationships for the betterment of all. In an environment of open information but low trust, insurers should position themselves as credible information brokers, creating a new kind of transparency into the system while meeting users’ real needs. The most successful organizations will win by listening to their users and revamping tools around user needs.

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