UnitedHealth makes the case for insurer-retail partnerships

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As UnitedHealth operates as "an outside-in organization," ensuring its product development and service delivery always "fit into the life of the consumer," it frequently looks to the retail industry for lessons learned and guidance, Tom Paul (pictured), chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth, told FierceHealthPayer in part two of a two-part interview based on his presentation at the AHIP Institute in Las Vegas last week.

"There are a lot of learnings we can do from the retail industry and we have already begun doing that around how to create that outside-in perspective," Paul said.

In particular, UnitedHealth means to capitalize on the fact that retail is a "significant portion of individuals' lives" by creating new retail partnerships to make it easier for the consumer to access all aspects of the insurance industry.

"We've been doing it for years with pharmacies and care providers, but how can we better work with the retail industry?" Paul asked.

Insurers could, say, team up with grocery stores to help increase health awareness and wellness purchasing among their consumers. Or they could partner with technology companies to help inform consumers' wellness goals, including walking, weight management and diet.

"We're doing those types of partnerships that really extend the value that we bring to a consumer, extend the value of the retailer and their relationship and bring a more holistic experience to the consumer," Paul said.

Those relationships with key retail players also help insurers apply some of its core consumer practices within the healthcare space. "Consumer segmentation, consumer research, consumer journey mapping are all components that help us take that outside-in perspective," Paul said.

And when it comes to its own retail environment, UnitedHealth already has a several sites where it will establish brick-and-mortar retail facilities, Paul said. However, the insurer is very careful about its site selections, first determining whether the retail stores fit within "the lifestyle of the consumer."

Such deliberate choices have led to two of UnitedHealth's biggest successes in the retail arena. One is a couple of stores geared toward the Asian American population built within Asian American neighborhoods and community settings in the New York area. "They've now become a center around relationships, purchasing policies, discussions with coaches around wellness and other activities, questions about service or claims and more," Paul said. "They've become almost a hub for those communities around health."

Another successful foray into retail for UnitedHealth has been creating short-term retail facilities. The insurer typically opens these pop-up-style stores during Medicare's open enrollment period. "So as consumers are in their normal day-to-day interactions with retail, we can be present there and be a source for them as they try to make decisions," he explained. "We've done a number of Medicare stores that have been widely used by consumers and have resulted in good relationships between consumers and us."

Editor's Note: In part one of this interview, Paul discusses how UnitedHealth is organizing its business plan around three key elements consumers want--simplicity, personalization and care--from their insurer.

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