Boston, MA — At the BrightInsight Ecosystem Event, which explores use cases and best practices in digital health, Harvard Business School Professor Gary Loveman shared some lessons for health care professionals gleaned from his unconventional career path. Previously, Loveman was president of insurance giant Aetna’s Consumer Health and Service division—but, prior to that, he was CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corporation, one of the biggest names in casinos. According to Loveman, success in each of these industries depends on detailed understandings of human behavior.

But the gaming industry, Loveman said, has been considerably more successful when it comes to motivating consumer behavior change. He asked a question that juxtaposed the dynamics of the two realms in a way that felt fresh and novel. “Why is it the same people who would trample Caesars Palace to get their dinner for $5 cheaper at 7 o’clock, or who would respond to a mailer I would send them to get their room in Las Vegas for $10 less than it was yesterday, not take their medicine when it keeps their arteries moving clearly, or when it keeps their ambulation more comfortable, or [when] it does these other vital things their physicians told them was the case?”

Loveman pointed to a critical business tactic he pursued in Vegas that he thinks the health care realm should consider mimicking. “If you had come to see me in Las Vegas and you had visited me just one time, I would have immediately estimated how much you were worth as a customer,” Loveman said. “I would have been able to do that with surprising precision by knowing your age, your gender, where you lived, what game you played or what activities you did at Caesars Palace.” Based on these data points, he would try to build business with an individual customer over time. “Who does that in healthcare?” he asked. “If you are a person whose health is way below its potential and [an insurer] is paying a lot more than they need to and you are suffering a lot more than you need to—who is out to capture that? Nobody.”

The following example illustrated what he really meant. The cost of something as simple as the flu could be as much as $75,000 for an elderly patient, if the condition led to a stay in the ICU. With that in mind, it’s well worthwhile for a payer to spend more on a patient—or “send you out in a limousine and a marching band”—to get them a flu shot. But we don’t usually see payers pursuing that sort of thinking.

There’s another big way, Loveman said, in which health care could learn from gaming, and it pertains most closely to digital health. Digital health devices might be good at tracking patients’ activity, but if they don’t make their user “feel like a winner,” they won’t be great at effecting change. 

“Why would you put a device on your arm that constantly tells you that every goal that has been set for you, you have been missing? Nobody does that,” Loveman said. “The goal is not to put up positive reinforcement for people who don’t need it. The goal is to find reinforcement for people who do need it, for whom their interaction with healthcare is constantly disappointing.” The solution, he said, is “a trusted engagement tool that is data-driven, that encourages people to find a path to improve their health, that is consistent with their interests, that is informed by their decisions and is personalized to their interests.”

Why This Matters

Loveman’s first lesson speaks most directly to insurance providers. But his second point has broader implications, applicable to every sort of pharmaceutical and health care company. It speaks to the unstoppable trend toward personalization in medicine. 

“Biopharma and the medical device world have a very exciting future — we are talking about personalization, we are talking about precision medicine, both directed at the notion [that] we will find solutions tailored to the needs of the individual in a way that allows them to pursue their health in a constructed fashion,” he said. “In so doing, remember this is a consumer. This is a person that will respond more favorably to things they find encouraging and hopeful, and less responsive to things they find discouraging and defeatist.” 

In more and more ways, patients today are learning to expect the same quality of customer experience from health care companies that they’ve long expected from all other brands they choose to support.  

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.