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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Stakeholder alignment - difficult but necessary

by Torsten Bernewitz

Payers who want to get closer to their end-customers must become excellent on four dimensions: consumer insights, consumer engagement, simplicity and openness and stakeholder alignment.

I discussed consumer insights, consumer engagement and simplicity and openness in more detail here:

Here are some observations about the fourth success factor: stakeholder alignment.

The experiences of many healthcare companies who are practicing it show that consumer marketing in healthcare is particularly complicated. There are many more stakeholders and influencers than in most other industries, and they don’t always align. In fact they may actively work against each other. 
In a recent study we were mapping the stakeholder and influencer impacts across the multi-decade diabetes patient experience (i.e., from at-risk to death). We found that patient journeys and stakeholder relationships were exceedingly complex, resulting often in conflicting and confusing experiences for patients, and likely poor outcomes as well.
It is important for health insurers to appreciate this complexity. The focus on consumers (or for that matter any other stakeholder in the healthcare supply chain ranging from providers over employers to the government) is not independent from the way we engage with the other stakeholders, and the way that they perceive us.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers had to learn this lesson the hard way, when they “circumnavigated” physicians and started to communicate directly to patients. Many physicians did not really appreciate patients questioning their decisions or asking for specific therapies because of something they had seen on TV.
Payers can experience these conflicts today, when patients redeem co-pay cards they received from their physicians, who got them from drug manufacturers. Payers are not thrilled by the distortions this creates to their benefit designs.
As health insurers move closer to the consumer, they need to take care to synchronize their consumer activities and communication with those to the other stakeholders in the healthcare chain.
For example, Cigna’s consumer engagement program includes mobile applications that locate the nearest pharmacies and emergency rooms and decision-support tools that compare quality and medical costs. Cigna also provides access to health coaches for chronic conditions like diabetes. This will only work well if providers are well aligned with the same protocols and priorities.
How easy will it be to create this alignment?
In fact it may be very hard. According to a recent study by the American Medical Association, nearly two-thirds of U.S. cities are dominated by two health insurers, and nearly half of all metro areas are controlled by one. In 60% of the 359 largest metro areas, the two largest carriers have a combined market share of 70% or more, and in almost half (48%) of cities, one insurer had a market share of 50% or more. Local market domination is critical to influence practices of healthcare delivery through contracting terms, guidelines, etc. For example, it helps to introduce new payment models to replace traditional fee-for-service contracts.
Of course the dominant players in these markets are not always the same. For the individual insurer, engaging providers may therefore be easier in some areas than in others. We will continue to see disparities in medical practices, protocols etc., and this will make consumer engagement, which requires overall consistency, potentially very challenging. This may be one of the reasons why companies like Cigna limit their push into the individual market only to select markets, where they think they can build a strong presence - in Cigna’s case currently only 10 states.

Torsten Bernewitz is a healthcare industry analyst and management consultant.
He is Managing Principal, Healthcare Insurers and Payers at
ZS Associates.

This post is the author’s own and does not necessarily represent ZS Associates’ positions, strategies or opinions.

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