For digital healthcare to survive it has to be consumer-centric

Healthcare is a complicated industry, for sure. There are long-standing practices ingrained in providers, insurance companies and consumers.

There is the balance of the insurance industry being a business-to-business space, but with the end user ultimately being the health consumer. And while digital interactions with consumers are becoming the expectation for other industries, there continues to be questions about how to best integrate digital healthcare technology in a field where human interaction and support is critical.

After several years of pretty incredible venture capital investments in digital health care, some in our industry are beginning to question the sustainability of this type of investment, and the viability of many types of digital companies aiming to “disrupt” the healthcare industry. Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures, recently wrote about this in his article “Digital health is dead,” and other digital health leaders have begun to raise similar questions.

There are two primary challenges outlined:
1. Creating a product designed for consumers that actually connects with the consumer; and
2. Building a viable business around this product.

With anything in healthcare, it’s important to remember that we are not always dealing with a “typical” consumer. We think of the typical consumer as applying a rational decision making process, accessing their cognitive functions and being able to assimilate information in a way to make a semi-rational decision. This is somewhat true in a chosen journey, like when consumers purchase a car, shoes, or electronics. However, the healthcare consumer described as what we call “On the Journey,” which is an unchosen journey due to an illness or injury, is very different than how we might commonly think of a typical consumer.

Think about anyone you know who has dealt with a significant health issue. First, it’s not a chosen journey. Second, as a result of being on it, their well-being and even survival is under threat. These two things trigger a primal emotional response common to all humans that literally disengages cognitive skills, puts people in stress response, and triggers the flight, fight or freeze responses. That would be bad enough, but then add to it the “On the Journey” consumer is interacting with a medical system that views them as a body part or problem to be treated, benefits they don’t understand with significant financial threats if there’s a misstep, insurance institutions that are big and threatening (when in a primal state anything big is threatening), the need to completely reorder their life to deal with this unwelcome situation, and they are doing all of this when they are sick or in pain. That is the reality we need to understand when we are trying to connect solutions to the consumer.

So how can digital healthcare thrive and make a difference in the industry?

Connect with the consumer
Designing solutions intended to impact or needing to be embraced by the consumer requires a deep understanding of how and when the consumer is going to be interacting with the product or service. This is a very different inquiry than one focused on a “user experience,” which tends to be the inquiry used in digital healthcare. The most important question to ask should be “how is this going to connect to the consumer?”

In every other industry, especially those that live and die by consumer engagement, the companies that win and sustain take the time first to understand how the consumer experiences a journey, and then they fit their concept into the natural flow of that journey. While healthcare requires interactions between healthcare providers, insurance companies and employers providing benefits, getting results ultimately requires trust and engagement from the consumer.

The reason many digital solutions have struggled is because they fail in understanding the consumer’s reality. Many in the digital healthcare space have tried to address this through on-the-surface communications campaigns and carrot/stick approaches to encourage engagement. But until we can empathetically see the experience from the consumer’s view and then figure out how to be in the consumer’s natural path at the precisely right time in a way that matches the consumer’s emotional and cognitive reality, we will be unable to “own the consumer.”

Considering the consumer’s reality, in this context the truth is that digital is part of the solution, but likely needs to be connected to the “On the Journey” consumer through the humans that are dealing directly with the consumer since the key to reducing stress and accessing cognitive skills during the journey is human to human empathy and trust.

Build a business around solutions
As Coppedge points out in his article, those who benefit from new healthcare solutions aren’t necessarily those who are paying for it. Even if you have developed a solution that can successfully connect with consumers, the concept will not be enough if there is not a solid business strategy behind it.

Commercialization in this space is challenging and requires focus, discipline and patience. If employers on behalf of their consumers are largely the ones footing the bill, it’s important to fully communicate the benefits they will realize as a result of providing the improved services to the consumers being served.

Ultimately, achieving a healthcare system that works for all parties involved – providers, insurance companies, employers and most importantly consumers – will require collaboration, innovation, patience and disruption. It remains to be seen what will happen with venture capital funding in the future, or how digital healthcare startups will shift focus to better ensure long-term sustainability.

Technology alone won’t be able to provide the consumer with what they need, and will never be able to replace the empathetic human connection needed to help consumers navigate the healthcare journey. It’s critical that as an industry we keep our focus on connecting with the consumer in the way they naturally experience healthcare, and have solutions that bring the best of technology and human interactions to meet the “On the Journey” consumer whenever and however they need.

Kara Trott is Founder and CEO of Quantum Health, an award-winning consumer healthcare navigation company that delivers an unparalleled consumer experience based on empathy and trust, enabling employers to achieve industry-leading satisfaction rates and independently validated claim savings. Launched in 1999, Quantum Health’s model is based on years of consumer research and the insights learned from guiding millions of consumers and their providers through their healthcare journey. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Quantum Health has earned numerous awards and honors, including being named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, Fastest-Growing Privately Held Company for the past 10 years by Inc. 5000; one of the 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies for the past four years by the Women Presidents’ Organization; a Best Place to Work for the past 10 years by Columbus Business First; and a Great Place to Work® Best Small & Medium Workplaces by FORTUNE Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine. Learn more at, and connect with us on Twitter (@QuantumHealth1), and LinkedIn (Company: Quantum Health

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