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Healthcare Insights: Q&A with David Claiborn, Former Chief Designer at UnitedHealthcare

Meet David Claiborn, Architecture Executive at Miratech and former Chief Designer of Optum Customer Office at United Healthcare Group. For those who are or have been in speech recognition, VUI, and IVR design - chances are you've come across David's user-centric conversational design work, public speaking, and workshops in customer experience. David is a SpeechTek alum!

So…how did it all start? Your interest and background and what gets you excited about CX, and CX in health insurance?

I started as a Conversational Designer for IBM Global Services working for a large telco. After a while, my mentor, Mark Stallings, convinced me to speak at SpeechTek in New York. As I presented a “hackers guide” to natural language, I garnered the interest of some nice gentlemen at United Health Group (UHG). Three weeks later I was moving into an apartment in Edina, Minnesota, and reporting to UHG.

I think the thing that excites me most about CX in health insurance, is that it’s an art form that serves people in need. Many of UHG's members have serious challenges that they, or someone they care about, are facing. By listening and using my experience as a consumer, I can make a tangible difference in the lives of tens of millions of those members. I feel every little bit of good I can do as a designer helps; I have found no users more deserving of the best than those I encountered at UHG. 

Today, what do you see as the biggest issues in the world of healthcare member experience?

I see three major issues when it comes to the healthcare member experience:

  1. Creating experiences that drive better health and usability outcomes for the members. 

  2. Leveraging the scale of the network to offer the best experiences and technology for members. 

  3. Making sure we (as healthcare insurers) are building solutions that take advantage of all the advancements in technology.

Tell us about some of the new technologies you’ve come across that you feel will have a demonstrable impact on the industry.

I see three new technologies that I think will make a major impact on the customer experience when it comes to healthcare:

  1. Generative AI for obvious reasons. The possibilities are endless and we are just scratching the surface of what’s doable with this technology. 

  2. Social Media experience. 

  3. SMS experience.

Double-clicking into that…when it comes to technologies what do you see as fads and which will stand the test of time?

To start, I know all of the technologies listed above are here to stay in our vertical. I don’t want to call any technology a fad because the truth is almost every technology has a use somewhere. However, I see serious challenges for IVRs, siloed CRM solutions, native mobile apps, and both passive and active voice biometrics, moving forward for a handful of different reasons. Primarily, while these are sold as meeting member needs, on implementation, they don’t really work in ways that meet those needs. 

Where do you think we will be five years from now – where would the needle have moved the most and why?

I think organizations are going to push for digital adoption to cut costs. Voice and digital bots will be everywhere as AI becomes easier to solve for resources and technology. And probably the biggest needle mover will be that Generative AI is going to remove the need for many professional careers across all verticals.

Do you have any examples of health insurance or healthcare companies out there that you think do a great job in CX and why?

While the Advocacy Programs at UHG are top-notch, there is a wonderful service model for families with chronically ill children called “The Special Needs Initiative”.

The crux of the model is a one-to-one relationship that is created between a UHG advocate and a family in need. This creates deep bonds and provides practiced insights for the members. At UHG, the Advocates go above and beyond to a member, but the SNI Model takes it to a whole new level. 

Can you tell us about a CX project that you were involved in and the past, how you came to define the problem, and what steps you took to solve that problem?

I would use the inception of the omnichannel program at UHG as my example. To figure out what needed to happen in all 11 of our lines of business, I took 18 months sitting side by side with agents, advocates, nurses, doctors, and pharmacists to write and prioritize user stories that have driven the division from a CX and innovation perspective for the last five years. The backlog of user stories and the high-level designs for high-priority concepts that followed, represent my best work as a designer and architect.

A C-Level leader at UHG looked at the work and called it my, “Dark Side of the Moon”. As a result of these deep dives and design implementation, UHG increased consumer sentiment by 20%, improved NPS by 8-10 points, and reduced operating expenses by over $250M USD annually.  

What advice do you have for health insurers in the space when it comes to being strategic about CX?

Don’t chase KPIs. Do the right things for your members in measurable ways and work to continuously improve upon those. I would also hire people who have real talent in the field. If the person you just hired has no background in CX and technology, what are the odds they are going to lead you to the best experience possible for your members? 

If you had one question to ask the industry leaders in the healthcare space (and they had to answer) – what would that be?

I’d ask, “In the spirit of full transparency, could we compare notes and figure out a path for all our members together?” There are things we did at UHG that I know will work for everyone and I suspect my peers know some secrets too. No one’s members need to lose when we all can win. 

If you could pick an actor to portray you in a Christopher Guest movie – who would play Dave Claiborn?

It’s my Q&A, so I will pick an actor, movie and role. I would choose Edward Norton to play me in a remake of “Spinal Tap”, playing the role of the original band manager, Ian Faith.




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