Q&A: Forging Solutions With Creativity and Open Minds

Summer Wright Collins, who leads the C1 Innovation Lab, breaks down how C1 teams are working with employers to help members navigate a fragmented health care system, reduce costs and improve health outcomes.

"For members — and I’m sure all of us can relate to this — health and well-being is a comprehensive state of being," says Summer Wright Collins, who leads the C1 Innovation Lab. Collins is a divisional vice president for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Employers are eager to optimize what they spend on health benefits and make coverage more affordable for their workers. They’re also motivated to help employees get the most out of their benefits, so they can be their best at work.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas launched the C1 Innovation Lab© with the belief that the solutions lie in the ideas and insights of the employers and employees themselves.

Collaborative, interdisciplinary teams at C1 rapidly design and test ways to improve employees’ engagement with their health benefits, help them navigate a fragmented health care system, reduce costs and improve health outcomes.

Making the Health Care System Work talked to C1 Innovation Lab Divisional Vice President, Summer Wright Collins, about the work underway.

MHCSW: The name C1 signifies a customer-first mindset. What does that mean in practice?

Summer Wright Collins: Our projects, our initiatives, our creativity in responding to issues stem from what our customers and members need. It’s important that we listen and understand what they’re experiencing, sharing, and telling us.

It’s a mindset of curiosity, and we respond in a very customized way for each project.

It’s important at the beginning and throughout the process to identify our assumptions and really put them aside. Even when you have an idea that seems quite far-fetched, there is likely a kernel of that idea really pulling at something important that needs to be addressed.

MHCSW: What kind of challenges do employers bring to the C1 Innovation Lab? 

Collins: We have large national customers who want to improve member engagement — finding that area of impact in communicating about health care benefits is important to them. We have other clients who are focused on developing innovative programs around specific health conditions, such as oncology or behavioral health. We welcome working on any topic that aligns with our mission.

For example, we worked with an employer whose employees comprised largely of truck drivers and warehouse staff who regularly travel and engage in physical work. The employees shared their obstacles, experiences and perspectives with our design team. From that information, the team was able to create a unique concept for addressing the concerns of those members.

On another effort, we partnered with an employer to reimagine the delivery of behavioral health resources within the framework of virtual health. However, the team was anchored in the human context of behavioral health. They weren’t driven by technology — they used technology to enable the solution.

There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage new technologies and capabilities to impact health care services, care management, peer networks and provider access. This becomes a significant consideration when we’re working with employers with national and international employee populations.

MHCSW: How does the design team approach an issue and come up with a solution that can piloted and put into practice? 

Collins: Our framework is human-centered design-thinking. We start by conducting and integrating various types of research to inform our next steps. Through comprehensive analysis, we use the insights to create a low-fidelity prototype.

That prototype then takes a series of iterations and adjustments from user feedback to evolve into a more developed pilot.

It’s exciting to test the pilots and observe the performance of the concept. We embrace the understanding that sometimes we may have unexpected results. It’s that freedom that really enables the team to design some unique and meaningful pilots.

The depth and diversity of the team allows us to respond with all types of models — service, process, technology and more.

The end prototype is extremely valuable, but the insights and perspective gained from the journey is very eye-opening. The clients tell us they learn a tremendous amount along the way.

MHCSW: Is the C1 Innovation Lab approach leading you to delve into areas that aren’t traditionally part of a health insurer’s portfolio?

Collins: For members — and I’m sure all of us can relate to this — health and well-being is a comprehensive state of being. It’s not just something that we think about exclusively in a doctor’s office or hospital. It’s our lives. It’s the supportive networks around us. It’s how and where we’re able to get access to the services that we need. It’s the ability to obtain the resources to recover and heal if necessary.

The approach that we take in addressing these challenges is to design for real-life applicability. Our prototypes are designed to cut through — and even solve for — some of the complexities of life while bringing value and better health to members.

The C1 Innovation Lab is truly a laboratory and a space to be able to build and develop concepts that impact clients, members, our organization, and the healthcare industry for the better.

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