Transforming the Healthcare Industry Through the Power of the Purse

The conventional definition of health -- and how, in turn, that shapes healthcare -- is about to change in a big way. We have women to thank.

Pharmaceutical companies and health systems -- backed by the respected dictionaries of the English language -- define health as the absence of illness. Yet according to a new report from the Center for Talent Innovation, many women view health as something much broader than the treatment of disease. As redefined by women, being healthy means being well, physically, mentally, and emotionally. "I don't think about curing but caring," shared a registered nurse interviewed in the study. "I am focused on my mother's quality of life," explained a caregiver. "Health is all about lifestyle and living actively," a working mom reflected.

Why does the $6.5 trillion healthcare industry in the U.S. care about what women think? Because, as The Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision-Makers for Healthy Outcomes, makes clear, women are increasingly a vital force reshaping the market.

Chalk it up to their varied roles in receiving, delivering, and deciding on various aspects of healthcare for themselves and their loved ones. Among the key roles women play as patients, caregivers and healthcare decision-makers, however, the latter role as Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has, by far, the greatest impact.

Women are the Chief Medical Officers of their households and make healthcare decisions for themselves (94 percent) and make health care decision for their loved ones (59 percent). They make up the industry's core consumer segment as they set the health and wellness agenda for themselves and others, choose treatment regimens, and hire and fire doctors, pharmacists, and insurance providers.

Yet 58 percent of CMOs lack confidence in their decision-making because they are starved for time, starved for knowledge, and starved for trust. The report finds that 78 percent of women do not fully trust their insurance provider, 83 percent do not fully trust pharmaceutical companies, and only 65 percent trust their physician. The deficit of trust between women and the healthcare industry is an enormous obstacle in building consumer loyalty and driving health outcomes.

This lack of trust is symptomatic of a much more systemic affliction: despite reams of market research, the industry doesn't understand, respond to, or engage constructively with the female consumers. Clinical studies derive data from male subjects. Dosages are overwhelmingly determined without regard to physiological differences between men and women. And even though women make up the majority of employees in healthcare, a dearth of women in industry leadership means that, to the industry's detriment, women's insights into health are rarely elicited or acted upon.

That's about to change, though.

The intense pressure to collect outcomes data and pare down costs by employing solutions that can be shown to have the best impact on patient care is forcing the healthcare industry to shift from a "business to business" model to a "business to consumer" model. The move to "patient-centric" care is further accelerated as technological advances have handed patients a megaphone while big data has handed professionals unprecedented consumer insights. Yet the market cannot truly deliver good health outcomes until it understands and builds trust with the female consumers who comprise its biggest market.

The good news: Solutions abound.

The industry has at its disposal precisely the professionals who could help harness the power of the purse and seize the vast market opportunity that patient-centric care represents: women. Female employees - who, in their private lives, are also CMOs, patients, and caregivers - with their real world insights, know the power and allure of the trusted healthcare professional and can be better enlisted to connect the industry with its core consumers. As CTI's groundbreaking research on innovation and diversity makes clear, moving more women into leadership, and training leaders to adopt the inclusive behaviors that elicit and endorse women's insights and ideas and build stakeholder trust in both the message and the messenger, is critical to the industry's success.

Chief Medical Officers have a unique opportunity to help make this happen. Use your megaphones and the power of your purse to let the industry know that it's a transformation whose time has come.