Liz Boehm [Posted by Liz Boehm]

This past Monday at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum, I was listening to Wayne Peacock of USAA and I found myself wishing that he could be a part of the healthcare reform debate.  Wayne was talking about how USAA weathered the trials an tribulations of 2008 — fires in California, Hurricane Ike, and the collapse of the US financial infrastructure, just to name a few.  All of which left USAA significantly "over plan."

I couldn't help thinking about the parallels to the health plan and healthcare industries.  Where property and casualty gets hurricanes and fires, we get swine flu.  And while the financial crisis is universal (in healthcare we feel it as layoffs, loss of insurance coverage, and consumers cutting back on preventive care), we also have systemic issues like the obesity epidemic and lifestyle-related health issues.

When faced with a year like 2008, Wayne Peacock told us that USAA "went on a war footing."  Meetings that used to happen quarterly started happening monthly, weekly, or even daily.  They maintained a relentless focus on their mission of "helping members maintain financial security."  This focus is part of how USAA stays profitable while still delivering phenomenal customer experience.  It turns out all that great customer experience leads to loyalty — only 3% churn — which means they can afford to spend more on their customers.

It seems to me that if any industry needs to "go on a war footing," it's the healthcare industry.  What would it mean for a hospital to put a patient at the center?  It would mean a relentless focus on providing medical, psychological, and social services in an environment that promotes physical and mental well-being.  That would look very different from today's hospital settings where patients lie in blank rooms with no distractions beyond TV while their family members cool their heels in a waiting room where they're not allowed to use their cell phones.

And the changes would be even greater for health plans.  Health plans that take the stance (as so many do today) that the rules are more important than the consumer would soon go out of business.  Health plans would be forced to take member understanding and the ease and clarity of explaining how benefits work into acount before selling bizarr-o benefits to employers.  For example, most plans have trouble keeping their directories of doctors and hospitals up-to-date, so they make it the member's responsibility to verify a doctor's network status before receiving care.  If a patient makes a decision to seek care based on the plan's flawed data, too bad for the patient.  And plans don't want to publish the fees they consider "reasonable and customary" for care, so they leave patients wondering just how much their 20% coinsurance for a critical procedure will cost them.  Neither practice is very customer friendly.

It's not rocket science.  It's a matter of prioritization, organization, and continually asking, "how can we make this better for the consumer?"  And frankly, it's long overdue.