Interview with Aetna CMO, David Edelman, on Healthcare Journeys – Part 1

Tim Friebel sat down with David Edelman, Chief Marketing Officer at Aetna, for an insightful 2 part chat about how Aetna partners with their customers, and how Journey Sciences is helping them. Prior to Aetna, David, of course, also led the global marketing and sales practice for McKinsey & Company.

Tim: Aetna is making strides toward becoming a partner of wellness with your customers, as opposed to just being their health insurance provider. Why do you feel this is so important for Aetna’s growth and the well-being of your customers?

David: We’re at a point now in healthcare, where we have to make some pretty substantial changes to the way the whole system operates. If you look at the growth numbers, Americans are getting older, and because they’re getting older, they are also getting sicker on a per capita basis, so the demand for healthcare is going up very rapidly. At the same time, the physician supply is not going up nearly fast enough to meet that demand. Aside from all the basics you hear about healthcare costs escalating, we have a fundamental mismatch between demand and supply. If we're going to get the economics of the system in order, we have to help people take better care of themselves. We have to help people be healthier. If they are healthier, the whole system saves money. As more and more of those costs have been put on the shoulders of consumers, they are looking to save money. And certainly, so are we. It became imperative for us to dig in and work on the range of factors that drive people’s health. A number of those focus on more social determinates, rather than just simply helping people when they get sick.

So, we have to get people to behave differently, to take care of themselves, to make better use of content, tools, and advice that we already have available, but they’re not taking advantage of. For me, one of the biggest challenges for marketing, is to build an organization that can actually influence our members’ behaviors, to get them more engaged with their health and all the things that can help them be healthier. If we do that, then several good things will happen that can also drive growth for Aetna. One is, they're healthier and they see how the brand has done that for them. In parts of our market where there is consumer choice, like Medicare, or in some of the commercial employer based accounts, people would be biased towards us if they have a good experience and we’re helping them to be healthier. Similarly, in the employer market, if we can help an employer keep their employees healthy, it not only saves them cost, but it makes their employees more productive. If we can show that we can do that, it will drive growth as well. The whole competitive nature of the business needs to pivot from just simply saving money on a more micro basis, to really helping people get healthier. 

Tim: That’s very insightful. Is it a sign of the times from a technology perspective, seeing that every company, in every industry, wants to deliver great experiences to ensure customer loyalty, or something else? As people are living longer, how do we make sure we handle the cost in a better way for the longer term?

David: From an experience perspective, this plays out in several ways. The way we, like most health insurance companies, have grown over time, is that every little business function has their own objectives to try and maximize their cost savings and their performance. When you put it all together for the consumer in an end-to-end experience, it easily becomes a bit of a mess.

For example, we pulled from our data the longitudinal touches that we had with a Medicare member (somebody over 65) who has two health conditions. When we did that, we saw that the number of touches we had with them (outbound communications over the course of the year), was over 150 touches. That’s three per week, at least! So naturally, that’s just overwhelming. And when we looked at the rate of people responding and engaging with a piece of communication relative to how many they receive in a month, it became pretty obvious that you rapidly get to a point of completely diminishing returns. People just tune it out. Every little group is sending their thing, but for the member it’s just an overwhelming avalanche from the same company that they tune out.

We have to change that and look at the end-to-end journey. If somebody is diabetic, or has high blood pressure, we have to ask, “what really are the priorities to their journey with us that we should be managing with them so that they can be healthy”. How do we take all the stuff that’s not as important, and stop it? Then, for the things that are important, make sure it goes right and is seamless. That’s the process we have to work through. It has challenges from a technology standpoint, because we have to be able to choke and control the communications. There are also governance issues because you’re saying, “No” to some business units, which is going to limit their ability to hit what they thought were their goals. Then you need to have the analytics capability to see how the journey is going overall, and what’s working and what’s not.

We’re working to put all of this in place. For example, we have an office of the consumer now, who reports to me that manages end-to-end journeys. We’re just starting to get traction, but from the board on down, we are committed to this journey-centric direction. 

Tim: It seems as a healthcare provider serving so many different age groups, each of them interacting differently, you really have to think about meeting the customer where they want to be met and in their channel of choice. Is that another area that Aetna is focused?

David: Definitely. I mentioned Medicare, where you have seniors with multiple healthcare conditions. Then swinging to the opposite side, you have millennials who don’t have a lot of healthcare needs, are basically healthy, and question why they have to spend a fair amount on healthcare. For them, it’s a bit different. What we have to do is help them appreciate all of the auxiliary benefits that they can get from membership. Whether its discounts at gyms, access to alternative healthcare provisions such as: physical massage therapy, or acupuncture. We need to help them sort out all of the overwhelming amounts of medical technology support, from apps to other things that they could take advantage of and actually provide some real curation.

We have some of these things in place, and some of these are things we have to build, but we have to make it so that a millennial sees value in their relationship to us. That’s unlikely to be in the core “medical industrial complex.” It’s going to be in how we can support their broader range of interests and ambitions, for wellness, fitness, etc. We're building the connections and capability to bring that to life for them. 

Tim: Health being probably the most personal of journeys you can have, along with all the different segments of customers that you’re servicing, is personalizing the health journey more important than personalization in other industries? 

David: Well, clearly. It’s about people’s health. I’m not going to be a judge of journeys in other industries per se, but if somebody has a particular medical condition, we should be completely focused on the number one thing: making sure they can manage that condition to be as healthy as possible. Everything else is just noise. As I said before, people tune it out if they get that noise. So, we have to be on top of things.

We also have to be aware that everyone is going to be in different stages of how they are dealing with a particular condition, or just an ambition that they have. For some people, they just want to lose weight, or they might want to run a marathon. In our onboarding process as members join us, we're engaging them to understand their ambitions. Do they have conditions that need management? If they don’t, do they have objectives they want to reach from a lifestyle perspective? Based on that, we’re actually developing protocols for different kinds of programs that can help them in those goals that cut across all the different products, services, and touch points that we have. Then, we have to bring that to life and execute it.

The challenge from a data perspective is making sure these programs are working. And frankly, we don’t know what’s going to work or be effective until we try it. So, there’s going to be a lot of testing and learning. There also has to be a very strong feedback loop to know that if we want to test the best pathway for somebody with high blood pressure, is that pathway really helping them? Is it as smooth as we'd like it to be? We need the data to do that from a journey perspective and that’s going to be a very personal thing to get that data on an individual level and use that to constantly refine what we're doing. 

Continue reading Part 2 interview with David Edelman: 

Part 2 Interview w/ Aetna CMO David Edelman on Healthcare Journeys

Written by Tim Friebel

Subscribe to the ClickFox Blog

  • Be the first to know about what's trending in Journey Science
  • Stay up to date with our latest Journey Analytics Products
  • Be a part of the Journey Science movement!