A man and a woman look at a laptop computer.

Humana’s Busy Burr on the importance of human connections

Busy Burr, Vice President of Innovation and head of Humana Health Ventures, spoke earlier this month about the need to listen more intently and honestly to our customers, focusing on their real needs so we can help them lead healthier lives for longer and actively reduce costs and complexity.

Poster for Burr talkBusy presented her speech – titled Return on Health: A New Model for Healthcare Innovation – at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in New York.


“Many of Humana’s customers are some of the most vulnerable people – homeless, poor, elderly, disabled. Some are functionally illiterate. Many are facing challenging chronic medical conditions. For them health is hard,” Busy said. “To serve them we need to understand – FEEL the barriers that are in their way and figure out how to make health easier.”

There’s a solid economic underpinning to this, she said. By tackling the barriers to health, we help slow disease progression, which means we stand to take billions of dollars of costs out of the health care system. This isn’t about cutting costs, it’s about not incurring them because people stay healthier for longer.

At the same time, slowing disease progression can create millions of healthy days for our members every year – a dramatic Return on Health.

But she acknowledged that it won’t be easy.

“We all know that today our healthcare system doesn’t work,” she said. “Over time, it’s become a wasteful, inefficient system that rewards procedures performed rather than health outcomes achieved.”

She’s seen the problems up close, having served as caregiver to her mother during the last 18 months of her life.

“Over many months we all learned that the social and emotional components of caring for someone have huge impact; they’re often much greater than the medical treatment of clinical conditions,” she said. “Something I took away from that experience and still think about every day is that, until we look holistically at someone’s health needs over time, we’re missing a huge opportunity to move the needle.”

And the solution won’t come from nifty, new technology . It will come from deeply relating to the needs of each of our members, realizing – with empathy and clarity – that living with chronic conditions is difficult.

“It’s not about patronizing them,” she said. “It’s about realizing how hard it is to be them.”

She introduced the crowd to Mary, a Humana member who told her story in this video.

True innovation – the type of work that helps people like Mary live longer, healthier lives – won’t be accomplished with PowerPoint decks and conference calls, Busy said. To get there, we have to be open, emotionally engaged, purposeful and vulnerable human beings.

“To truly innovate —to create amazing, cool and smart innovations that can impact whole systems—we need to design and to execute differently,” she said. “We need to come from our hearts and from deep within our own experience. So I think we need to bring idealism, spirit, soul, love, artistry and improvisation into the work we do every day.”

She calls it “whole-hearted design.”

And the ultimate goal is a Return on Health, much like you’d get from a good financial investment. If we help people invest in their health now, the payoff will be big. The return will be measured in:

• Healthy days for our members
• Happier, less stressed families (who themselves see health benefits and learn health lessons)
• A more rewarding experience for caregivers
• Lower total healthcare costs

“It’s about being human,” Busy said. “It’s about moving beyond technology that just delivers functional gadgets, but designing and building in a way that enables human connection. Because I believe that tapping into human emotion is what will bring amazing new things into the world.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like