AHIP Institute 2014: The Year of the Consumer

By Michelle Snyder

The perfect conditions to discuss the future of healthcare: a comfortable 70 degrees in Seattle, a great coffee store on every corner and some of the most innovative healthcare companies (including our clients & partners) - all in one place! Needless to say Welltok was in good company at 2014 AHIP Institute. On my flight home, I was looking over the agenda thinking about how far the healthcare industry has come in a few short years - but also how far we still have to go.

I was inspired by sessions devoted to the consumer: “What are Consumers Telling You?”, “The Future of Healthcare in a Consumer World”, “Connecting the Consumer Experience” “Behavior Change and Engagement”. I could go on and on but you get the point. Health plans are finally waking up from its slumber and focusing more on the needs and wants of consumers and creating “memorable” and “meaningful” consumer experiences.

There were two topics from AHIP that struck a particular chord with me.

1. 70% of consumers do not think they have an issue with their health and do not need to change their behaviors.

Given the fact that 78 million Americans are pre-diabetic and over a third are overweight, trying to engage with these consumers will be a challenge. Smart companies are beginning to rethink their messaging about health improvement. Being ‘more fit’ will simply not resonate with a large segment of the population - it needs to be tied back to what being healthier lets you do: play with your grandchildren, ride your mountain bike, hike up a mountain with your spouse when you are 80, etc.

2. The biggest predictor of whether someone will be interested in improving their health is the degree to which they can delay gratification.

This reminded me of the infamous Stanford marshmallow experiment conducted in the 1960’s with preschoolers - it made perfect sense. Children who were able to say ‘no’ to the marshmallow while the educator left the room, were shown to be the most successful later on in life. According to consumer research presented at AHIP, adults who can delay gratification and have a more future-oriented mindset (as measured by the degree to which they engaged in financial planning) are more likely to care about improving their health and make choices that do not have an immediate impact. Eating one marshmallow now vs. getting a full bag later. Companies that can segment these consumers, can better understand their motivational state or behavioral profile and develop more targeted messaging, thus increasing more meaningful engagement – it’s pretty simple.

This only strengthens AHIP’s prediction that 2014 is “The Year of the Healthcare Consumer” - we are in a new era of healthcare where the consumer takes center stage. I look forward to next year’s AHIP Institute to see how these themes and the industry have progressed. My hope is that we will see fewer sessions on the need to engage consumers and more sessions on comparing the effectiveness of different engagement programs and channels as an outcome of engaging the consumer. To make a difference in healthcare, we need to do more than reshape the system around the consumer - we need to understand their individual motivations to get them to take action. Until then, I must get back to my four-year-old and the bag of marshmallows I bought yesterday – Harvard here we come!