Healthcare Innovation in the Age of the Empowered Patient

Posted by Justine Andrews on Mon, Mar 28, 2016

Dave Wieneke is the Digital Strategy Practice Director at Connective DX, a digital experience agency in Boston and Portland, Ore. We help organizations embrace the power of digital, align around the customer, and take control of their digital future. Dave can be reached via email at

Dave Wieneke HS

The US healthcare industry is at once both colossal and intensely personal. At 19% of our economy, its significance and complexity are unrivalled. The challenge of efficiently delivering high-quality personal care though cooperating organizations at this massive scale sets a high bar. And now, thanks to government reform, the power of digital, and well-funded entrepreneurs, the industry is undergoing immensely disruptive turmoil. The upshot? More than ever before, providers, payers, policy makers, and other key players are seeking new ways to align with patients and each other—to survive and ultimately to win.

On March 31st, Connective DX is inviting healthcare innovators for an afternoon of discussion about how they are using design thinking and digital innovation to engage patients as never before. These experts, representing diverse perspectives in healthcare, will offer insights on how they are making sense of the changes underway—and the disruptions that are yet to come:

Kate McCarthy of Forrester Research is a Boston healthcare industry veteran and advisor on how technology is changing healthcare systemically.

Aaron Watkins of Johns Hopkins Medicine is a frontline innovator who has built one of healthcare’s strongest internal digital strategy teams.

Matthew Templeton of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is a design thinking advocate and practitioner at the state’s largest health insurer.

(If you’d like to attend this March 31st executive forum alongside other local healthcare leaders, please request an invitation. Capacity is limited and attendance will regrettably be by invitation only.)

As we’ve planned this event I’ve had the opportunity to discuss with our panelists the issues they believe are having the biggest impact on healthcare today. Here’s a sneak-peak at a few of the topics we’ll address in this event:

1. How limiting the size of healthcare mergers may drive bolder types of growth
In just a few weeks last summer, nearly $100 billion in mergers were proposed, including Aetna’s purchase of Humana ($37 billion), Anthem’s play for Cigna ($54 billion), and Centene bidding for Health Net ($6 billion). By the year’s end, the FTC began to tamp down on mergers nationally and locally here in Boston.

Paradoxically, limits on local expansion are fueling bolder efforts to enter distant markets (such as MGH and UPMC), to provide distance services through technology, or to pursue vertical integration with payers, product companies, or other services such as Zoom Clinics in Oregon. As this happens, factors such as company size, brand power and integrated client relationships will become more important, rewarding the organizations that are nimble, customer-focused and highly efficient at scale. How does your organization measure against these criteria?

2. New layers of transparency will recalibrate healthcare brands
Boston is rich in both esteemed higher education and healthcare organizations. There are rich parallels and differences to be drawn, but one similarity is that consumers still make major life and financial choices regarding both education and healthcare with very little objective data.

We see patients just starting to benefit from three layers of transparency that hospitals and others are making available to them: cost projections, health satisfaction feedback from similar patients.

We’re fans of Massachusetts Health Quality Partner’s mission to help providers, payers and patients make smarter, data-driven decisions about treatment. They’ve done this through quality reporting on practices across the state, and recently they’ve begun working with the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research to help explain why cost and quality outcomes vary widely from state to state, region to region, and even within parts of the same city.

As such data comes together for research, we are seeing the start of hospital websites starting to provide cost and outcome transparency, particularly in the case of self-funded traveling patients. We’ve also talked with several systems who are seeking to bring reviews by verified patients on to their pages – so that they can aggregate the point of view of patients and providers as part of service line marketing. If there are going to be reviews, why not on hospital pages?

3. Big collections of content are big liabilities--if they contain errors
For people buying health insurance, those lists of providers showing which doctors will take your health coverage are like ingredient lists for food or drugs. Except the provider lists contain something unexpected: lots of errors.

One audit found a list of providers was so out-of-date that the “make goods” from these errors resulted in $38 million of claims adjustments over two years. And this year, new regulations will allow Medicare and Medicaid to fine insurers for these types of errors.
Is your organizations ready to ensure you have the best data integrity systems and content governance? We’ll discuss how companies can protect their business—and their customers—from these unnecessary and costly errors.

4. Accessibility will be for more than websites, and not exclusively for the disabled
Accessibility is about to draw increased attention with the first update to the federal guidelines since Section 508 was enacted in the late 90’s. Since then, the internet of connected things makes has made the ability to navigate digital interfaces essential for even basic living, so expanded standards is likely to refocus attention on accessibility across government and healthcare which often follows such standards as well.

But beyond strictly gaining access, many in healthcare face a larger issue of using jargon and technical terms that patients don’t understand. Limited health literacy is a hidden epidemic, from diagnostic descriptions to discharge summaries, as the Institute of Medicine concluded, there is a major mismatch between the health information people receive, and what they understand.

As hospitals focus increasingly on engaging patients in wellness programs, there is a fundamental need to communicate clearly and in plain language with patients and their families, especially those with low medical literacy. Improving hospital websites is an obvious starting point because they are so visible and set expectations of what’s to follow. Becoming great at engaging patients who are seeking care can be a step toward the communications needed to connect better with patients as part of treatment.