Humana’s Sarah Ahmad talks empathy, trust and return on health

Sarah Ahmad, Vice President of Consumer Health Solutions at Humana, spoke this week about the importance of having empathy for customers, listening to their needs, and working with them to create the right health interventions at the right time.

She spoke to other innovators at the World Class Digital Transformation Conference in Portland, Oregon.

“We learn from our customers every day and in every encounter,” she said. “To earn and keep people’s loyalty we learn to be empathetic. We work very hard at listening in order to understand barriers and unmet needs and find new ways to meet them. We start with the customer and work back. That’s our team’s philosophy. “

Creating that loyal, trusting, two-way relationship is a five-part journey, she said:


“To activate members, we look at the vast range of the data available to us, including emerging digital therapeutics/remote monitoring,” she said “We’re parsing, matching and synthesizing data sets to understand when and how to intervene to best engage and activate consumers.”

But getting the data is the easy part, she said.

“It’s not the data per se; it’s the motivation behind the data that can offer real breakthrough insights and opportunities for when to intervene with members toward better health. One person’s personalized message could be an annoyance to another. So we are focusing on understanding which data is the important data and the effective segmentation to reach individuals at the time and place they are most receptive to our messages of encouragement and offerings of support.”

As an example, she spoke of the dangers of diabetic neuropathy, where high blood sugar can damage nerves, especially in the legs and feet. Minor nicks and cuts can develop into severe wounds, often resulting in amputations.

But education in self-care, along with high-tech solutions like sensors that detect inflamed tissue, can go a long way in preventing severe problems.


“Health fits into life, not the other way around,” she said.

She spoke of visiting a Humana member in Kentucky who had been living with diabetes for 10 years and thought she had been managing it well.

“At one point we started talking about her nutrition, what she was eating every day. She said, ‘come here, I have to show you this.’ So she took us to her kitchen and opened up her cabinets; there were stacks and stacks of canned goods – from green beans to Spam. She was excited about eating foods that were low in carbs, not realizing that the high sodium was bad for her high blood pressure.”

The member also was relying on a 10-year-old piece of notebook paper with handwritten suggestions on how to adjust her insulin based on her diet.

“One of the biggest unmet needs with consumers is education and awareness,” Sarah said.


“What’s happened, through our journey with our members, is that we’re actually transforming Humana,” she said. “We’ve moved from a transactional relationship to one that’s much more about the health and well-being of our members.

“By becoming a partner for life for people, and not just that place where you call to see if a claim got paid, it helps our organization and our whole industry transform.

“We want to be a health + care organization.”


Being a trusted partner builds engagement with our customers.
“It’s really critical that we show up in that way. We do that by understanding their needs, their desires, and then making sure we are presenting them with those right solutions at the right time. You have to do that with love and respect.”

She noted that Medicare Advantage members stay with Humana an average of eight to 10 years, which enables those trusting relationships.

Sarah shared the story of Mary Condra, a Humana member who is 95 and thriving.


“When you lead with health, with quality of life, lower costs will follow,” she said. “The financial benefits will come, whether it’s medical cost savings, reduction overall in the healthcare system, all of that will follow if you start with health, with slowing disease progression.

“We’re focused on the consumer; we are very empathetic of their needs. That’s where I spend all of my time in the Innovation Center, truly understanding the needs of our members so we can deliver them the right solutions at the right time in their healthcare journey.

“With better quality of life, building trust with our members, we’re transforming our organization. To sum it all up, data and consumer segmentation are about connecting with people and truly understanding their needs. It allows the advanced analytics to connect the dots to the desired health outcomes. “

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