How to Make Health Care Membership Matter: The Role of Trust in Service Innovation
September 5th | 2017
by Zach Jenson

When was the last time that you were invited to a membership?

Was it free? If so, was it something that you actually wanted to be a part of? The idea that truly valuable membership programs are exclusive, even elite, seems have to become increasingly pervasive of late. So what does this mean when you’re trying to build a membership experience on top of a service that every single person needs and deserves access to? That was the challenge that we set out to solve when we started working with Allina Health two years ago.


All this matters because the way that we shop for our health care has begun to change. While the idea of searching for a doctor or hospital that meets your needs is nothing new, the idea of evaluating an entire health care system is. This is the result of a rapidly changing insurance marketplace that now expects customers to choose from a range of options based on which providers and locations they most value. This evolution has completely changed the way that these providers have to market themselves – it’s no longer just about your friendly neighborhood doctor; it’s about the system to which that provider belongs, and the membership benefits that being a part of that system conveys to its customers.

During the process of exploring what those membership benefits look like, we learned a lot about service innovation – here are four of our biggest takeaways:

1. Health care membership is complex, but essential:

In a heavily regulated industry like health care, this idea of membership can quickly become a sticky topic. You want membership to feel like a valuable, intrinsic part of the experience, but you never want a patient to be denied quality care because they haven’t yet become a member. Points systems, priority lines, and other trappings of traditional membership programs would be callous when applied to something as important as a person’s health. As a result, the intrinsic value of a membership experience has to be rethought from the ground up.

2. To find new sources of value, look outside of the current experience:

Understanding what would truly differentiate the Allina Health experience without interfering with the quality medical services that they're known for proved to be a fascinating, if challenging, piece of research. One of the first things you discover when trying to build a unique health care experience is that the vast majority of industry surveys and research are simply too grounded in the existing experience to move the needle. They’re full of recommendations for no-nonsense optimizations like better bedside manner, shorter lines, and faster wifi, but they fall well short of the game-changer benefits that a truly valuable membership experience should provide.

To determine what real experience innovation might be, we took a different tack: find out what questions people had stopped trying to ask their providers. By pairing Google research tools with Simmons survey data, we were able to peek behind the curtain of a dozen or so of the most common ailments and identify the questions that patients were only asking online. The theory? That patients no longer saw health care as truly comprehensive, and were taking valid questions and concerns to the web because they’d stopped trusting their providers to help. If we could help address these concerns, well…that’s exactly the kind of value that would make membership a huge asset to our client and their patients.

3. Health care is only a fraction of health:

Hiding behind the thousands of queries that we turned up was a surprisingly rich tapestry – a far more nuanced picture of a person’s health needs than traditional customer experience research might have you believe. For example: why, we wondered, did those that searched for rheumatoid arthritis management techniques frequently search for auto repair information as well? The answer, it seems, lies in the mineral spirits that car mechanics use, and the growing body of research linking their usage to connective tissue diseases. Examples like this broadened our horizons immensely. Our workplaces, genetics, foods, and hobbies all have the power to impact our health in fascinating and complex ways that, unfortunately, are unlikely to ever come up in the narrow framework of a traditional doctor’s visit.

This body of research led us to our most important realization: a health care membership experience isn't about fundamentally altering the medical care; it's about contextualizing that care within the much larger landscape that is health. It's about helping people choose the right food, find time for the gym, learn about their bodies, and unlock their full potential. It isn't about providing customers with a quick fix and then waiting for them to come back; it's about building a relationship over time that's convenient, considerate, and cumulative. This idea has been the cornerstone of our work over the past couple of years, and it’s changing the way we work and even, in many ways, the industry itself.

4. Building new value means building trust:

With this vision in mind, we’ve begun building a member experience that truly delivers on this broadened idea of what health care can be. We’ve designed a new brand based around what patients want, not what degrees doctors have. We’ve designed clinics that adapt to the needs of their communities. And we’ve fostered a culture that believes in serving real people, not just sets of symptoms. Because when it comes to the future of membership, and the future of health care itself, exclusivity isn’t the answer. The answer is belonging.

Find out more about how Zeus Jones works with health care clients to modernize the industry.