In 2018, Professor Niobe Way warned of a looming Crisis of Connection – one with dire consequences for industry and society. “Though the concept of a crisis of connection is not yet widely utilized, signs of its existence are everywhere … as the bonds of solidarity and cohesion weaken, our ability to address our societal problems and pursue our common interests is severely damaged,” the New York University professor wrote. Fast forward four years and one pandemic into the future, and Way’s warning seems both remarkably prophetic and more dire than ever before.
No industry has more to lose – or gain – from addressing this Crisis of Connection than does healthcare. Veterans of the healthcare industry have seen the very tangible impact that intangible feelings of connectedness can have on health. Feelings of disconnection are leading indicators of cognitive impairment, reduced immunity, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and, ultimately, higher mortality. Conversely, connection has a consistently positive impact on health outcomes, whether that connection is to a person, a cause, or even a brand.
Healthcare’s Opportunity To Connect
Despite her uncanny prescience, Way may have underestimated the resilience of human connection. Yes, historically foundational connections have eroded. But we have not been left untethered in their absence. In the most recent Lippincott Brand Aperture study, we found that while American consumers are increasingly losing faith in typically trusted institutions – including their fellow citizens, the media, and the government – those same consumers have increasingly high expectations of businesses, brands, and employers.
Moreover, the consumer connection to healthcare brands grew more than nearly any other industry between 2019 and 2022. With a vacuum to fill and momentum on their side, healthcare brands are uniquely positioned to address the Crisis of Connection, with material benefits for our industry and our society. Leaders can best begin by forging connections on three fronts – specifically by connecting their organizations to people, to progress, and to purpose.
Connecting To People
The first opportunity revolves around connecting to the people we serve. Healthcare organizations rely on evidence-based approaches to manage customers, members, and patients within the context of their business models. These same organizations tend to be remarkably evidence-poor when understanding people in the context of their own lives. This lack of contextual understanding is even more troubling when we consider that, by many estimates, medical care explains only 10-20% of the variation in health outcomes. The remaining 80-90% of variation is contextual, social, personal – and deeply human.
The solution is clear: achieving a richer understanding of the segments and individuals that we serve in order to better fit into the context of their lives. We partner with clients every day to understand the untapped potential of human insight – from using advanced analytics to model access patterns among historically marginalized communities and craft new location and transportation strategies to increase healthy equity, to using digital ethnographic approaches to understand how to tailor app development to increase digital engagement among immigrants. And in each of these cases, to ultimately fit into the context of people’s lives and drive genuine connection.
At its best, understanding is a pathway to emotional connection and to value-creating influence. We’ve seen that emotional connection allows payers to steer their members toward more consistent care and prescription routines, resulting in 40% higher adherence; to find common ground more quickly and resolve disputes, resulting in 10% lower customer service costs; and ultimately, to forge enduring, profitable relationships that increase member lifetime value by nearly 300%. All that, simply from connecting to people in the context of their lives.
Connecting To Progress
The second opportunity to connect revolves around creating progress for the people we serve – meaning, helping them do or achieve what they otherwise could not. In healthcare, we most typically measure progress using physical indicators. But progress is not merely physical, it’s also deeply emotional. It’s felt.
When we create a perception of helping people progress, we reap both indirect and direct financial benefits. Indirectly, progress creates connection and transitive economic reward. In our Brand Aperture research, we see that when a brand helps a customer progress, the customer is likely to feel emotionally connected to that brand roughly 80% of the time. In other words, creating a perception of progress is a powerful means by which to create the emotional connection – and ensuing positive economics – mentioned above. Directly, we see that brands that help customer progress are more effective at marketing new products, selling new services, or simply extending the relationship over time – all of which can be worth as much of four additional points of revenue growth relative to industry peers.
In healthcare, we too often fail to “get credit” for the progress that we create. Consider the moment a patient leaves an interaction with a clinician. A successful interaction leaves the patient with a clear sense of direction, a deep feeling of connectedness, and a palpable feeling of progress (and is again a leading indicator of adherence and customer value). An unsuccessful interaction leaves the patient feeling directionless, disconnected, and uncertain.
Moments like this are highly elastic. They’re emotionally and financially charged. By levering analytical approaches to identify the moments that matter and then applying thoughtful experience design – in the provider example above, building in better post-appointment staff support and outreach – a brand can ensure that the progress it creates is recognized and deeply felt. Reinvigorating connection to our industry doesn’t need to take billions of dollars and years. It need only takes careful experience design applied at the moments that matter.
Connecting To Purpose
The third and final opportunity to connect involves connecting to Purpose.
Purpose is feeling a part of something bigger than oneself. Purpose inspires and engages. Healthcare is innately purposeful. In fact, many healthcare veterans want “caring for health” to be purpose enough. But it’s not. It’s the why and how that are the gateway to connection – whether to our organizations, our fellow team members, or our customers.
Purpose creates value. In our Brand Aperture research, we see that brands whose employees clearly understand and support its purpose tend to outperform less purpose-driven brands in both revenue and market cap growth. And the value extends beyond the financial. At a moment of unprecedented clinician and employee burnout, purpose can be a powerful tool to engage, motivate, and retain at-risk talent.
There’s common pitfall associated with purpose. Too many organizations articulate a reason for being – a why – and stop there. These organizations neglect the how. At best, this neglect results in a highly varied experience, as team members pursue competing understanding of a common purpose. At worst, this neglect creates a perception of disingenuity and inauthenticity, undermining trust and ultimately connection. The opportunity for healthcare brands is to showcase their experience, their business model, and their differentiated assets and capabilities – both through the purpose itself (the why) and the underlying commitments that support them (the how). This alignment of purpose and experience creates mutually reinforcing rational and emotional understanding of the brand, yielding a whole that is much more than the sum of the parts, and a clarity and understanding that become an invitation to connect.