From an industry perspective, the term “consumer health” has historically been limited to OTC and lifestyle-oriented Rx products. A search for “Consumer Health Innovation” jobs on LinkedIn yields the following types of descriptors for the position:

•     10+ years of experience, and a successful history of managing OTC brands (or CPG) and launching consumer healthcare products
•     Marketing, brand management, innovation or strategy experience in consumer goods or OTC categories

Innovation in consumer health, therefore, has led to new vitamin and supplement brands, new kinds of pain-reliever gels and patches, different formulations of moisturizers and cremes, sugarless cough drops, among a variety of other incremental product innovations.

Over time, health insurers, health systems and other providers have also started to think of their offerings as consumer health and have put more effort into developing services for consumers. This has led to innovations like appointment scheduling, prescription refill reminders, doctor-locators, and other digital health services. And, of course, with COVID-19, telehealth services have also reached higher levels of functionality and utilization.

These types of innovations represent what most organizations have pursued in the consumer health category—incremental and functional innovations—intended to create more product choices and/or ways to make consumers’ lives easier. Consumers, however, over the last 10-15 years, have increasingly adopted a more holistic perspective on their health. While consumers may enjoy having more product choices and apps to manage their daily logistics, such innovations have not necessarily filled the gap that has emerged, as the consumer’s definition of health has evolved.

Collective research over the last decade on how consumers think and feel about their health distills the holistic nature of the way people are viewing their health.

This is reinforced by a recent article, Seven Trends on Consumer Health, which affirms that consumers have a broader definition of their health and are looking for more self-care and “natural” alternatives.

Additionally, looking specifically at millennials’ expectations for health, many state they want this type of holistic health support in a customized and personalized way from providers.

•     93% of millennials want a provider relationship, but 85% feel that providers only care about them when they are sick. They also want to feel supported in their efforts to improve their overall health.
•     More than 80% of millennials feel that if their providers knew more about their health interests, goals and motivations, they would be able to serve them better.
•     90% of millennials want support for emotional/mental health, adequate sleep and positive family relationships.
•     Millennials overall were more likely to have explored integrative medicine options over the past 12 months, including mental health, chiropractor and acupuncture visits.

Coupling the broader consumer health trends with the demands of millennials suggests that today’s consumer health innovations only represent a small fraction of what consumers need and want to support their health. And if you take into consideration that these needs represent only what consumers are even aware of and can articulate, just imagine the types of products and services that can be created when more unknown or latent consumer health needs are uncovered. A transformational approach to innovation, rather than an incremental and functional approach alone, is necessary to reimagine the consumer health category. It behooves leaders to create the types of integrated products and services that consumers seem to want, as well as the offerings they don’t know they want yet.  

A more transformational approach to innovation also creates opportunity for the different sub-sectors of health to rethink their role in the consumer health category and expand their footprint within it. Here are some thoughts and questions for each sub-sector:

OTC. The OTC industry has generally followed the CPG model of a house of independent, product-focused brands, leading to line extensions as the most common form of innovation. But can OTC companies pursue more transformational innovation?

o      Is there opportunity to bring some of the different brands together to create entirely new products? What adjacencies, beyond the product categories offered today, would be relevant and credible?

o      Is there opportunity for some of those brands to build service offerings? What services offerings and/or partnerships might you pursue to create more personalization and provider support for consumers?

o      Is there a branded-experience aspect to your business that goes beyond your website, shelf space in pharmacies/grocery stores, and being listed on Amazon?

Health Systems/Providers. In the last five years, most communications from health systems directed at consumers incorporated at least some elements of “wellness,” because a key insight is that consumers respond more to the idea of prevention and staying well. This is also in alignment with the objectives of health systems whose goal is to convince consumers to seek primary care and other preventive services with their brand and build relationships with them for their future care. Yet, their innovation has focused more on the convenience, digital and logistics aspects of care, as opposed to new types of wellness services. But is there opportunity for creating new or redesigning wellness services (assuming some level of insurance reimbursement), rather than just making it easier to access?

o      Are there new services altogether that can be offered to consumers and their caregivers to support their wellness needs? How can these services balance the need for clinical value and consumer relevance?

o      Would consumers want a package of wellness services designed to align to their life situation (e.g., a new mother, an amateur athlete, a recent retiree)? Could this be in partnership with lifestyle-oriented organizations to be more appealing to consumers?

o      Is there an opportunity to make a coaching a more central part of primary care and broaden the definition of “health coach” to include physical, mental and emotional health? Could this “health coach” be a new function that health systems develop by providing additional training to some of their top staff? Is this something that consumers would be willing to pay for out-of-pocket?

Health Insurers. Today’s health insurance has some important prevention benefits for their members, such as annual check-ups, flu shots, mammograms, screenings, and other services that are typically low co-pay/no-deductible. But are these prevention benefits sufficient for the next generation of consumers? Could health insurers generate additional revenue streams?

o      Would consumers be willing to pay a greater co-pay or higher annual amount for their coverage if other benefits (aligned more closely to their holistic needs) were included?

o      Just as car and home insurance have always been separate (and now recently are offered as bundles), could there be a separate insurance for wellness benefits aligned to different phases of a consumer’s life? Would top employers be willing to subsidize wellness insurance the way they do with health insurance today?

o      How might health insurers extend their membership model such that consumers truly see themselves as members of a brand? And what additional products/services might consumers want to buy from that brand if they believe in the brand’s value proposition?

Rx. The pharma industry has long attempted to create “value beyond the pill” but has usually attempted this at a product brand-level, which is limiting.

o      How can the industry bring itself closer to how consumers define health by building an ecosystem of non-Rx offerings?

o      How can the industry showcase this ecosystem with a strong corporate brand?

Consumer health is ripe for reimagination and the companies that approach innovation with a transformational, rather than an incremental, mindset stand to gain the most.

About the Author:

Suchitra is a VP, Strategy with 20 years of experience across agency, industry, and management consulting environments.  Her areas of focus have included strategy & growth, brand & marketing, and innovation & human-centered design.  She has worked with clients across the health ecosystem, including life sciences, consumer health/wellness, health technology, health insurers and health systems.