Why would a hospital, health system, or other healthcare service business want a Chief Consumer Officer?

It was a question asked to me from a healthcare executive during an exploratory call last week. In fact, I’m having a number of these ‘chin-wags’ with senior leaders, as I seek and select my next full-time company leadership role. It may well be in creatively installing and my filling a role of Chief Consumer Officer.

I hear the murmuring of readers…

  • “Steve – it’s just another title for a meaningless role”
  • “That’s what a Chief Patient Experience Officer does.”

Stepping back from the busyness of the business of healthcare, one thing is critically clear – the age of the healthcare consumer is upon us. And if you don’t see it, then you are blind to the blinders being shed from decades-old purposeful price-shielding and cost-kicking down to employers and individuals.


Let come correct with one very important distinction:

In the American healthcare system – consumers are MORE than patients.

A consumer is traditionally a ‘person who purchases goods and services for personal use.’ But because our country’s healthcare system has a deeply-entrenched third party payment system, the care recipient is not often or even wholly the purchaser for the care services or products.

Healthcare consumers include patients, employers, fully-insured health plans, as well as government entities. Properly recognizing and defining the term impacts how a healthcare organization can optimize patient acquisition, engagement, outcomes, population health, positioning and partnerships – while maximizing revenue and growth.

So how would a healthcare organization transform their thinking to target, engage, acquire, manage, and retain health consumers?

Take a look at United Health Group. They have positioned themselves around many engagement ‘touchpoints’ from individuals and companies within the healthcare system.

  • United Health care coverage (fully insured and ASO models for self-insured clients)
  • OptumHealth – 53,000 physicians, 1,450 primary care clinics, and 230 surgical facilities where nearly 1 million patients receive treatment annually
  • OptumRx for pharmaceutical benefits (employers)
  • Health & Wellness solutions for employers and employee engagement
  • OptumBank for HSA/FSA engagements
  • OptumStore for direct-to-consumer purchases

A Chief Consumer Officer and consumer team can help health systems and healthcare service organizations do much of the same:

  • Working directly with self-insured employers via direct contracting for care services
  • Developing, partnering with, or even branding themselves under a white-label arrangement for employer & employee engagement services
  • Branding the provider’s own online stores for selling D-to-C
  • Interacting with PBMs to create a discount D-to-C site such as GoodRx
  • Using video services not just as a reactive and billable telehealth service to patient’s needs, but as a handoff of prospect-to-patient acquisition, as well as targeting and engaging patients (for free) who are holding off on care, testing, therapy, etc. Plus, using video engagement for scheduling, care questions, and even revenue cycle management.

In years past, costs in healthcare have simply been kicked down to employers and individuals who, due to purposeful complexity of the system, had little leverage or impact on change and choice. Today’s consumers, in the form of employers, patients, and insurers are gaining critical access to cost data, and are being helped by emerging data and cost vendors.

No matter how providers want or don’t want to contribute to price transparency, that pricing information will eventually get out to data vendors and solution organizations who serve employers. And employers are steadily recognizing that as true consumers with vendor allies, they can get get greater leverage around cost and choice.

As a side note, this is an excellent time for ASO plan insurers to position themselves as true allies to their employer clients and employee members in the spirit of cost and choice. Because if they don’t, there are a host of new companies, such as Transcarent and Zero Health, who are already stepping in to fill the need.

We all know the famous quote by John Newbern on people being divided into those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. That also applies to healthcare organizations whose leadership is currently failing to recognize the ground shifting right underneath their feet.

Consumerism is not a trend or a fancy new term to invent a segment of healthcare consulting services. It’s the transformation that comes from free market forces, greater data, more transparency, and the spirit of human growth.

Healthcare organizations – it’s time to get on the right side of change and history. For the good of your business needs, patient outcomes, and future sustainability in this critical time of largely overdue and growing consumer transformation.


Dr. Steve Ambrose is a widely-recommended healthcare subject matter expert and strategist. He was worked across many industry segments and carries a strong understanding of payer, provider, technology, and consumer-centric companies. 

He can be reached at: steveambroseUCLA@gmail.com


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