UnitedHealth Group relies on user-centered design approach to improve customer service

By creating a new engagement layer for agents, UnitedHealth was able to address workflow issues, making it possible for them to focus on customers more keenly.
03:59 PM

Healthcare organizations need to offer greater convenience, choice, and cost transparency, as consumers increasingly demand personalized and patient-centered care, according to the 2019 Healthcare Trends Forecast: The Beginning of a Consumer-Driven Reformation, a HIMSS report released earlier this year.1

The consumer experience in healthcare, so far, has often resulted in frustration. Consider the following: Several years ago, when Erin Doney’s son, who has autism, suffered from a seizure, she brought him to the emergency department. The clinicians tried to perform an MRI examination.

“For folks who have autism, that’s very traumatic — the noise, the machine, and [the fact that they have to] sit still. So, he freaked out. I had never seen him with such fear in his face,” Doney recalled during an educational session she presented at the ServiceNow Knowledge 2019 Conference in Las Vegas.

Doney then spent several hours on the phone trying to get the appropriate services — such as a sedated MRI — for her son. Through this experience, she realized just how frustrating it can be for consumers when healthcare organizations are not meeting service expectations.

The experience is one that Doney thinks about often as she works to improve healthcare customer service in her role as vice president of customer experience innovation at UnitedHealth Group. Every time staff members “have to swivel from one system to the next, copy and paste from one system to the next, or look up something, they are taking attention away from someone who just said she has been diagnosed with cancer or from someone who said he is suicidal. And any distractions from that is unacceptable,” Doney said.

To address workflow issues, Doney realized UnitedHealth Group could not “replace all of the hundreds, probably thousands of systems that we had,” she said. Instead, United HealthGroup needed to “create a wrapper around that experience for agents so that they could have that flexible workspace, getting the information they need at the time they needed for that member.”

To put this in place, the managed care organization sought a new engagement layer. After accessing multiple vendors on costs, features, and integration capabilities, UnitedHealth invited two finalists in for a “bake-off” in the “test kitchen.” The two vendors worked directly with agents — service reps, claims managers, clinicians, and others — to pinpoint the requirements of the platforms in a live environment. This human-centered approach proved to be especially successful as the “agent-led design accelerates innovation because … you’re directly getting to test drive and make a really informed decision on platform technology selection,” Doney said.

John Donahue, president and CEO of ServiceNow, pointed out during his Knowledge 19 keynote address how important it is for organizations such as UnitedHealth Group to create great user experiences by removing complexity and giving workers “what they want, when they want, how they want.” And, because of the innovative agent-centered design approach, UnitedHealth Group is now relying on a platform that does just that, making it possible for agents to focus on customers more keenly.


HIMSS. 2019 Healthcare Trends Forecast: The Beginning of a Consumer-Driven Reformation. https://www.himss.org/news/healthcare-trends-forecast-2019-beginning-consumer-driven-reformation.

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