What is the greatest impediment preventing Americans from getting good health care? Surprisingly, it’s not the cost of care. Instead, according to new research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), the fundamental issue is the health care industry’s failure to develop a nuanced understanding of, and commitment to, women as consumers and decision makers.
According to our report The Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision Makers for Healthy Outcomes, which was based on a multi-market survey of 9,218 respondents in the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan, and Brazil, health care consumers are overwhelmingly female and have huge unmet needs. For women, time is at a premium — 77% don’t do what they know they should do to stay healthy because, according to 62%, they lack the time. Women are swimming in health information but don’t know which sources to believe: 53% think they can get the best health information online while only 31% of these women trust online sources. Not only are women starved for resources, but they don’t trust the professionals who try to serve them. Of the women surveyed, 78% don’t fully trust their insurance provider, 83% don’t fully trust the pharmaceutical company that makes their medicine, and 35% don’t fully trust their physician.
Without the time, information, and trusted relationships that inform good decision making, we found more than half (58%) of women surveyed lack confidence in their ability to make good health care decisions for themselves and their families.
These findings should be a huge cause for concern among all players in the health care industry. Women account for a significant chunk of the market. Fifty-nine percent of women in our multi-market sample are making health care decisions for others. That number shoots up to 94% among working mothers with kids under 18. These women set the health and wellness agenda for themselves and their families, choose treatment regimens, and hire and fire doctors, pharmacists, and insurance providers. Given the influence of these consumers, you would expect that the health care industry would be supporting them with tools and services. Yet, strapped for time themselves, many doctors focus on patients to the exclusion of the decision maker accompanying them to the exam room; drug trials continue to ignore sex differences in medical trials and the impact that may have on dosage; and much information about insurance policies continues to be confusing and, at times, opaque.
The good news: By engaging this market segment and rebuilding trust, health care companies can have a first-mover advantage. They must first develop gender smarts with customers and exhibit the behaviors women seek, as decision makers, to serve their needs. As part of our study, we uncovered the behaviors that make the biggest difference in building trust and satisfaction with women:
•Doctors can foster dialogue and provide clear communication. Reporting test results in an understandable way, openly discussing preventative care, and proactively managing the health of women and those they make decisions for, as well as providing them with information that help them make those decisions, all go a long way toward creating a trusted partnership.
•Insurance companies can provide the coverage women want by making preventative care affordable, making it easy to find doctors in-network, and by providing easy, friendly, informative customer service. These seem like no-brainers, but in our interviews and focus groups, women continually report these provisions absent in their own relationships with insurance providers.
•Pharmaceutical companies can win trust by ensuring that clear and comprehensive information accompanies prescriptions and is available both online and by telephone, and by providing gender- and ethnic-specific drug recommendations.
Next, health care companies can see an instant benefit from both putting women in positions of leadership and encouraging them to use their personal experiences and perspectives to shape their approach. After all, women comprise 88% of the health care workforce — but only 4% of health care CEOs. In our report, we uncovered story after story of female health care professionals who use their personal experiences as a family health decision maker to inform their work. Those who have found their way to leadership positions, or who work within forward-thinking organizations, have achieved incredible connections to the female market.
Consider Cleveland Clinic family doctor Lili Lustig, who felt ignored by the physicians treating her mother’s illness and now uses that experience to inform her own approach with patients and female decision makers in the low-income neighborhood where she works. “I am so driven to make a difference, because I understand their frustrations and desires to be taken seriously,” Lustig says. If a patient visits with a family member, she makes sure to treat both with dignity.
Or consider Meredith Ryan-Reid, MetLife senior vice president and mother of two, who draws upon a standout customer service experience she had when she ordered supplies from Diapers.com to inform her contributions at work. After all, it’s directly relevant as MetLife works to ensure its customer service operation is sensitive to the time limits, information needs, and confidence of its accident and critical illness customers — the majority of whom are women.
“It is so complicated for the health care industry to move to a new model,” says Lynn O’Connor Vos, CEO of Grey Health care Group. “Understanding the role and importance of [these female decision makers] can really help get us there faster.”
The more health care companies elevate and amplify women inside their organizations — and build trust with them externally — the better positioned they are to become truly consumer-centric. The roles women play in the lives of others lend a multiplier effect. Their role as decision maker is not receiving the notice or respect it deserves, which is why we have named the women in this market segment the “Chief Medical Officers” of their families. Developing a keen understanding of these women’s wants and needs in health care, and using that understanding at every stage of product development and commercial relations, will help companies uncover and leverage huge market opportunities as well as surprise and delight their customers.
Carolyn Buck Luce is executive in residence at Center for Talent Innovation and senior managing director at Hewlett Consulting Partners. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs and was previously the Global Pharmaceutical Sector Leader at Ernst & Young LLP.
Julia Taylor Kennedy, vice president and senior fellow at the Center for Talent Innovation, drives qualitative research and writing for CTI. A seasoned producer and interviewer, she also hosts a Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs podcast called Impact: Where Business and Ethics