What Does “Consumer-Centric” Really Mean?


Five steps healthcare leaders can take to help tackle consumers’ most pressing jobs to be done and become truly consumer-centric.

Patrick Barlow and John Rudoy, PhD

11 min read

In most industries, it is an obvious cliché that consumer focus is critical. But within healthcare, this remains an emerging concept. The complexity of the services, payment structures, and even emotions involved in healthcare make “consumer-centric” an excellent but hard-to-achieve aspiration.

So what does it mean to be consumer-centric in healthcare and how can organizations find ways to anticipate true consumer needs and disrupt the market? The Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework, developed by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, offers a helpful heuristic for answering this question. The approach encourages us to think of a consumer’s path through the healthcare system as a series of personal motivations or “jobs to be done.” This is in stark contrast to viewing the consumer’s healthcare path as merely a series of services and activities. The system providing a service that was developed and delivered with the service in mind, not the end result, or “job”.

For example, a woman doesn’t want a mammogram; she wants to know that breast cancer will not rob her of seeing her youngest son get married. A busy mom doesn’t just want a “same-day appointment”; she wants to know quickly if her child has an ear infection so she can treat it and get some sleep. And an aging weekend warrior doesn’t want a joint replacement; he wants to enjoy his Saturday morning golf game without pain. Viewing healthcare through the JTBD framework enables us think more broadly about how we can help consumers as they seek to accomplish the “jobs” related to being well and staying well.

How might the industry recast its multitude of offerings, procedures, services, and products using the JTBD lens? The first step is to move beyond the narrow view of healthcare—a patient sitting with a doctor in an exam room—and think through the full spectrum of activities individuals undertake in the quest to improve and maintain their physical and mental health. These activities are often fraught with uncertainty. Consumers struggle with making and sustaining healthy choices related to nutrition and physical activity. They have trouble fitting medical care, with its 9 to 5 hours, into their busy lives. They are unsure how their health decisions today will affect their finances tomorrow. And, increasingly, they are trying to navigate the system not only for themselves but for their aging parents and young children. Taking this broader perspective, it is clear that the most salient consumer health issues are often managed outside the four walls of a medical facility.

And so in order to meet consumers’ needs and move toward consumer-centricity, healthcare organizations must visualize the consumer journey from start to finish, even if that journey intersects with the traditional system only occasionally. Here are five steps healthcare leaders can take to help tackle consumer’s most pressing jobs to be done and become truly consumer-centric.

The current healthcare system excels at solving acute issues. It is far less effective at maintaining overall health and wellness. 

1. Streamline access to healthcare

Consumers are done with a healthcare model that has them waiting weeks for a routine appointment. A recent Oliver Wyman survey of over 2000 healthcare consumers found that consumers want healthcare on their terms, on their schedule. That means they are looking for guaranteed same-day access, telemedicine options, and even in-home visits. In a world in which consumers can receive same-day delivery of a pair of running shoes, access virtual personal trainers on their phones, and receive immediate medical guidance from a smart speaker, much of the health and wellness world feels on-demand and immediate. Traditional healthcare organizations need to catch up or risk being marginalized.

2. Demystify the financial implications of healthcare

Over the past few years, consumers have taken on more and more financial responsibility for their own healthcare. Most consumers, however, remain perplexed when it comes to determining how their decisions affect their costs or how those expenses might be balanced against the likely outcomes. Guidance on the financial implications of healthcare decisions was one of the top needs expressed by consumers in our survey; but such guidance is, for the most part, not forthcoming in today’s healthcare system.

Imagine a healthcare organization that accurately anticipated a member’s out-of-pocket costs (based on benefits, necessary treatment, and selected provider) before the visit? Imagine the long term loyalty it would breed.

3. Make clinical decision-making easier

The rise of narrow networks is often derided as another negative outgrowth of U.S. healthcare’s cost-control problems. However, consumers in our survey saw narrow networks as potential value-add features that they would actually pay extra for. The catch was that those networks had to be curated to include only the highest-quality, highest-value, most convenient providers. This indicates that consumers don’t want a glut of meaningless choice; they want the tools, information, and guardrails to make good decisions.

What does that look like? It may mean giving them a pre-curated narrow network, a healthcare navigator they can talk to in-person or via their preferred electronic channel, or access to user-friendly, and personalized data that helps them chart their own path.

4. Support consumers as they care for others

The changing demographics of America are contributing to a burgeoning sandwich generation of individuals who find themselves responsible for their own care, as well as the care of their children and their aging parents. Our research demonstrates that these caregivers are looking for ways to improve their healthcare experience at rates much higher than non-caregivers. Given the aging of our population and the millions of Americans who will soon find themselves in the role of caregiver, finding a way to serve this demographic is critical for healthcare organizations.

There are a number of ways healthcare organizations could cater to caregivers. First, they must find ways to streamline the sharing of health and financial information so that caregivers can make informed decisions. They can also improve the ability of caregivers to be there for their loved ones’ visits, by, for example, expanding the approach to telemedicine to allow caregivers to join visits remotely, getting more flexible and creative around scheduling, and expanding support for travel and lodging. The organizations that find a way to improve the lives of caregivers will find themselves a magnet for a critical and growing population.

5. Help consumers maintain active, independent lives

The current healthcare system excels at solving acute issues. It is far less effective at maintaining overall health and wellness. Yet one of the top concerns of the aging boomer generation especially is precisely the latter. They worry about their declining, lessening mobility, and increased reliance on others for support.

They see a health system designed to cure their illnesses, but what they are really looking for is a health system that can make sure they can continue to shop, see their friends, play sports, and participate in the other activities that define a normal life. As health systems think about their next major project a new hospital should likely fall much lower on the list than facilities geared toward these needs. Such a facility could include fitness areas, places to shop for healthy meals and learn how to cook them, and access to support groups to help maintain behavioral health, among other services.

There are many ways healthcare organizations can broaden their thinking beyond these few examples. What is critical is to think beyond the traditional scope of a healthcare organization; the JTBD framework is one way to help spur this kind of thinking. Regardless, consumers increasingly see health and wellness as an issue that permeates their entire lives, and to serve them effectively, healthcare organizations must see it that way too.

  • Patrick Barlow and
  • John Rudoy, PhD