By GLENN LLOPIS
A 22-year-old and a 65-year-old are diagnosed with the same life-threatening disease. Their treatment protocols might be similar, but one has to endure treatment while living with a Craigslist roommate and is wondering whether she should ask a good friend to create embryos with her in case the treatment makes her infertile, while the other is realizing that her long-awaited retirement travel plans with her husband will have to be put on hold.
Both are dealing with major life challenges – different challenges than the other. Yet most healthcare organizations are not equipped to account for such individuality of experience. We focus on meeting standards of care, which of course is necessary and good.
But what about standards of personalization?
Two massive shifts are happening in healthcare simultaneously: a shift from volume to value – making the industry more accountable for individual health outcomes; and a shift in demographics – a shift in the very populations of individuals whose health they’re accountable for.
In the midst of those shifts, the industry has to accomplish a number of lofty and critical goals – improve patient experience and quality of care, reduce costs and re-admissions while keeping efficiency on individualized care and precision medicine, and move from a fee-for-service system to one based on value that rewards health outcomes rather than services rendered.
Whether or not the industry can accomplish these ambitious goals comes down to how well the industry serves individuals.
As a society, we are more diverse than ever, we are more informed than ever, we are aware of and proud of our individuality. Corporate strategies in every industry, including healthcare, were not designed to handle mass variance in people. They were designed to achieve efficiency, and efficiency requires a certain level of standardized thinking and standardized action.
As an industry, healthcare has a head start in this new era of personalization. Leaders have had to consider how to combine the efficiencies and quality of standardization (we all get the same flu shot) with the understanding that every person is different, and health is affected by many factors.
Here are three principles I’ve learned while helping healthcare organizations tackle the challenge of personalization.
When we turn diversity into inclusion, we stop being tribal and start seeing each other as human.
Thriving in an age of personalization begins with the skill of inclusion.
Our workplaces, patients and communities are multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-gender, multi-skilled – we each have different needs, personalities, strengths, experiences and temperaments. Inclusion is active: It’s a system for making sure the organization is welcoming at every level to every individual. An environment that is inclusive can be safe for people to be and celebrate their individuality. An environment that enables and celebrates individuality can lead to inclusion. But neither guarantees the other.
Treating patients as individuals doesn’t mean you need to have a different treatment room designed for every possible identity of patient, or a career path for every possible personality of employee. But it does mean you should start to think of patients and employees as co-designers in their own futures.
When we shift focus from brand identity to individual identities, we invigorate the shared mission by elevating individual contribution.
How can we elevate individual contribution within our healthcare organizations?
First, understand what stifles that contribution: we often focus on brand and mission at the expense of the individual. We do this with patients in our communities and with employees within our organizations.
At its highest calling, the healthcare industry is responsible for the health of all people:
- Population health, encompassing communities as a whole.
- Individual health, treating and preventing disease person by person.
A health system must prepare for both – with systems for understanding and treating various patient populations, and also with systems that empower the organization to understand and treat individuals.
Here’s why it’s important. Our nation’s demographics are changing. By 2043, we will be a majority-minority nation. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), diverse populations are more likely than non-diverse to suffer chronic disease and premature death. But it’s more complex than that. The data suggests a nuance that can’t be explained simply by putting people in boxes without taking into account their individuality. For example, according to the NIH, Hispanic immigrants have better health outcomes than whites – an advantage that diminishes with time spent in the United States. Also, according to the NIH, within the Hispanic ethnic group there is variation in health outcomes based on country of origin.
We categorize employees the same way. We create “population statistics” that don’t leave room for individual contribution. You want a job with us? Hope you have the right credentials, demonstrate the right skills, and say the right things. If you do, then you’ll have the right thoughts, the right results, the right values – in other words, all the same ones we already have. We’ll only include you if you fit the populations of people we’ve already included. That’s exclusion, and all it does is force people to conform, hide their individuality, and restrict their contribution.
When we loosen our grip on results and activate methods for leading in a way that honors personalization, we become healthy.
Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a leading driver of healthcare costs. It’s critical that we understand what’s going on at the population level and also at the individual level. The dominoes start to topple fast if we don’t find ways to make healthcare inclusive to all individuals.
Organizations have methods and processes in place that automatically make the system function a certain way. To change the way it functions, we have to change the methods. That’s an easy thing to say and a much harder thing to do. But it’s a strategic imperative for any health organization that wants to compete and grow in this evolving industry.
The key to building a culture of inclusion in the age of personalization is making sure healthcare organizations have systems and methods that make inclusion the de facto reality throughout an enterprise. If any given health system is not ready to serve these changing populations, that institution loses its ability to meet its goals related to prevention, care, research, talent acquisition, digital transformation and innovation.
Glenn Llopis is a Cuban-American entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker and senior advisor to fortune 500 companies and organizations in healthcare, retail, consumer packaged goods and beyond.