2016 #OWHIC Summit Preview: Humana’s Chris Kay on What Healthcare Can Learn from Retailers


Lessons on gaining consumer trust and prompting behavior change.

Chris Kay

7 min read

Humana is a leading health and well-being company focused on making it easy for people to achieve their best health with clinical excellence through coordinated care. Chris Kay, Humana’s SVP and Chief Innovation Officer, previously served as managing director and CEO of Citi Ventures, Citigroup’s global corporate venturing arm; and prior to joining Citi, Chris held leadership positions at Target. At the upcoming Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit, Chris will join a discussion on how to apply best practices from other industries to the evolving healthcare market. A preview:

Oliver Wyman Health: You spent several years at Target.  What can healthcare can learn from big retailers?

Chris Kay: In retail, you learn from your customers every day, in every transaction. The smallest changes – in product, in promotion, in the way you greet people – can make a dramatic difference to sales, to margins, and above all to loyalty. To earn people’s loyalty, you learn to be empathetic. You work very hard at listening in order to understand unmet needs, and then you find new ways to meet them. My team at Humana has the same philosophy. We spend thousands of hours with customers, and the more empathetic we are, the deeper and more profound the insights we get. Empathy, in many ways, is the root of all innovation.

OWH: You have talked about the importance of gaining a "360-degree view" of the health consumer. What degree view does healthcare have now?

CK: To misquote William Gibson, the 360-degree view is already here, but it’s unevenly distributed! Think about a typical Humana member: Their physicians and other health providers have lots of data about them. So do their pharmacists and other retailers, such as OTC drug retailers.  More data is available through phones, watches, and other wearables.

But the need for security means all this data is often siloed, unstructured, and protected. So the big challenge is to bring data together and make it useful.

The core of that challenge is trust. What will make us, as consumers, feel happy and secure that our data is out there and being used for our benefit? That’s not so easy. As a well-being company, we have to become a brand our members trust with the most personal truths of their lives. 

“Empathy, in many ways, is the root of all innovation.”
– Chris Kay, Humana

Blockchain technologies can make a huge impact here by eliminating middlemen. For example, blockchain removes the need for third parties in financial transfers, which dramatically increases speed and reduces costs. Likewise in healthcare, blockchain applications can place all consumer data on a network that gives all parties access to all relevant data without creating a security risk. How, and how quickly, this happens is something we’re deeply interested in.

OWH: Why is it so difficult to motivate consumers regarding their health? What can we learn from other industries in terms of changing behavior?

CK: Thankfully, people are free to make their own decisions! If people want to be healthy, our job is to make it easier for them to make good choices.

I think we can learn a lot from successful e-commerce companies – how they’re increasingly able to anticipate, not just respond to, my needs. It began with “if you like this, try this.” Now we’re all used to personalized ads and offers that utilize our past behavior to anticipate what we might want to do next. Soon, I might step out of the office to a message that says, “Your calendar says go to the gym, but you’re walking toward your favorite bar; is that what you really want to do?”  That kind of seamless and friendly “artificial” presence will help consumers make different decisions.

We know that a supportive family and community are critical to adopting and sustaining healthy habits. If consumers have that, then high-tech, high-touch approaches have been shown to deliver great health outcomes. 

OWH: What is the next big step toward a consumer-centric industry?

CK: I think we will see lots of small steps that, when we look back five years from now, will seem like a big step forward for healthcare and, above all, for healthcare consumers.

We expect to see lots of progress in three areas:

1) Slowing the progression of chronic diseases like diabetes and congestive heart failure. We believe that lots of new offers and services will have a significant impact on consumers’ lifestyle choices, behavioral health, and medication management over the next five years or so.

2)  Improving quality of life for people with serious, complex illnesses in the last years of their life. We can do much to create more personal care plans, and to care for people where they want to be cared for – often, in their own home.

3)  Making many more care decisions a win-win-win for consumers, providers, and health plan partners. If, as an industry, we can combine trusting, transparent provider relationships with high-quality data and analytics, there’s a big opportunity to make more decisions that benefit everyone.

Each of those is an opportunity to help millions of people and take many billions of dollars of cost out of the U.S. healthcare system. At Humana, we’re committed to all three as part of our goal to make the communities we serve 20 percent healthier by 2020 by making it easy for people to achieve their best health.

  • Chris Kay