Why healthcare brands must advocate for industry-wide solutions

Barry Silverman
Healthcare companies often tie their brand strategies into their missions, which speak to things such as care, healing, and healthy communities; however, this is no longer enough to be a leader in the industry. Brands that wish to lead in the healthcare space will need to consider how their brands will not only accomplish their altruistic goals, but impact the industry as a whole, through key solutions.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Deborah Ancona, Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, Professor of Organization Studies, and the Founder of the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management, discussed the role of problem solving in leadership. According to Ancona, problem solving as an activity alone should not be positioned as the most critical or primary leadership quality. Still, she does conclude that problem solving can and should be a critical leadership activity that also inspires others to lead. In fact, great leaders often see themselves as chief problem solvers. Our healthcare system today is wrought with challenges and problems, greatly in need of courageous brands and “chief problem solvers that can move beyond their traditional offerings and change things for the better.”

One could make a similar claim for brands. After all, the strategies that drive great companies often solve critical problems for their customers. It can be courageous for a company to truly commit itself to solving a problem and improving the lives of its consumers. Many healthcare brands serve noble purposes; they heal people and manage the health of their communities, but few are actually committing themselves to tackling the category’s most serious ills.

The healthcare industry in the US faces myriad challenges, but we can condense the most serious problems into four categories:

  • Payments are not properly incentivized, causing volume to win over value.
  • The healthcare cost structure is rapidly rising, in some cases becoming unaffordable.
  • Patients often experience suboptimal care delivery because of rushed, burned-out, or undertrained professionals.
  • The category lacks disruptive leadership that is dedicated to innovation and new thinking.

Here are a few examples of healthcare brands that are setting brave examples by focusing on solving these problems through greater relevance, responsiveness, consumer engagement, and brand governance.

Humana has launched a “value-based care platform” that pays healthcare providers for better outcomes instead of volume. By being more relevant to consumers via specifically focusing on solving the problem of rising costs, Humana is emerging as a true healthcare leader and problem solver. In 2017 the company was able to reduce overall costs for its members by 20% and emergency room visits by 6%. Its commitment to reshaping how healthcare procedures are incentivized is reshaping the business of healthcare.

Forward, a healthcare company in California, is solving one of healthcare’s most serious problems by reducing the overall healthcare cost structure through a unique model of care delivery that relies on AI and data. Instead of hiring more people, Forward uses sophisticated technology to reduce healthcare’s massive headcount and costs. At Forward, patients check in with an iPad and not a receptionist. A sophisticated body scanner records vital signs in less than a minute. The data is immediately stored to a medical record. A technician uses infrared technology to draw blood, and the patient’s medical information appears on a screen on the wall when a physician enters. The company uses AI and predictive analysis to diagnose and treat conditions, and patients pay only $149.00 a month with no copay or deductibles. Forward is being responsive to the needs of consumers and the needs of the changes within the industry. By doing so, they are challenging other healthcare brands to set a new course by solving one of healthcare’s greatest problems.

Interestingly, a healthcare brand that is addressing suboptimal care delivery, CareMore, is taking a counter approach by deeply engaging employees and patients for the purpose of better care. They are hiring large numbers of nurse practitioners, social workers, physician assistants, and pharmacists. “The uniqueness of CareMore is its synergistic approach to medicine which involves an end-to-end care model that not only maximizes quality outcomes and avoids complications from chronic disease, but also effectively controls specialty referrals and inpatient utilization.” As a result, CareMore is able to provide better quality care and has achieved 20% fewer hospital admissions, 23% fewer hospital days per patient, and a 4% shorter inpatient stay, compared to comparable care providers.

And lastly, Ascension, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the US, is becoming a true model for disruptive leadership through a brand governance framework that standardizes a unique model of care across multiple locations. Ascension spans 22 states with 2,500 care centers and is implementing nontraditional methods to turn the healthcare category on its head and set the pace for a new breed of care provider in this category. Some of its practices include a “virtual incubator group” to discover and solicit new partnerships for innovation. Unlike most other healthcare systems, Ascension will innovate a service and sell that model to other healthcare providers. They have also created a culture of innovation by creating the Ascension Leadership Academy, dedicated to creating new innovation leaders from within. Ascension is looking at problems in the healthcare business and solving them by throwing away traditional methods of business and acting more like a technology company than a healthcare company.

By solving problems through new forms of leadership, companies such as Humana, Forward, CareMore, and Ascension are changing the face of healthcare, for the better. Today is a critical time in the business of care. Never before has there been such a need for brave leadership, through solving the critical problems of the industry. This can be done by putting aside traditional models of care and learning from other categories like technology, a sector that needs to reinvent itself every 10 years. Being more relevant to a consumer’s needs is how problems get solved. Engaging consumers to be part of the solution is also critical, which means that consumerizing the care process and always putting the patient at the center of the vision is key to change.

Strategy Director, InterbrandHealth
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