The genesis of disruptive innovation

As Chief Innovation Officer at Humana, Chris Kay says innovation begins when you truly understand your customer.

His passion for anticipating consumer needs began while he was working in the retail sector.

“I’ve always been curious by nature,” explained Kay. “As an M&A lawyer who moved into a retail career, I was interested in understanding how Target had such deep insights about what customers would shop for. It was then I started to dig into unmet consumer needs. If you’re a retailer who wants to deliver value to consumers, you really have to understand them. You have to know them and know what their needs are."

Kay’s career has focused on efforts to simplify people’s lives and improve the customer experience.

Before he joined Humana, Kay pioneered efforts to streamline the retail banking experience as CEO of Citi Ventures. He graduated magna cum laude with a J.D. from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. in French and economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kay now designs products and services for Louisville-based insurer Humana to help improve people’s health and reduce costs of healthcare.

“Fundamentally, disruptive innovation is rooted in new customer experience or in meeting an unmet customer need,” said Kay. “Studies show 90 percent of the dollars spent on innovation are spent on process, systems and product innovation, but they only create 10 percent of the value. The 10 percent of innovation investment in new customer experiences and unmet consumer needs results in 90 percent of the value. That’s business model innovation.”

A focus on improving care

Kay says Humana is focusing on a “return on health.”

“To improve care, we need to have that deep understanding of our consumers and their health. We have to consider fundamental barriers to health like isolation, loneliness and food insecurities,” explained Kay. “As we innovate around health, we want to simplify a patient’s experience in the healthcare system instead of adding another silo or more complexity.”

“If you focus on improving the health of the members you serve, you ultimately reduce costs,” said Kay. “If you focus only on reducing costs, you may or may not improve health.”

In that spirit, Kay believes clinicians hold the keys when it comes to improving healthcare.

The ability to truly understand the health and clinical needs of our patients and shared customers is imperative. That’s why the healthcare industry needs to continue to have a strong physician voice at the top.

Christopher Kay, Chief Innovation Officer at Humana

“At Humana, we always have a physician or two involved in every innovation project,” said Kay. “At the end of the day, if improving health is how we want to get to value, then you need to be more in tune with how to improve health, and clinicians are uniquely positioned to do that. We need to consider how we can partner better with physicians as they take leadership positions in the healthcare system.”

Business of Medicine Physician MBA March Lecture Series

In March, as part of the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Lecture Series, Kay discussed a future-back view of the healthcare system based on emerging healthcare trends, consumer needs and technology.

“I believe as senior leaders in the healthcare world, we need to think about areas of opportunity or potential disruption. As we align our strategies and align our path, we have to have a view of where we’re going,” said Kay.

“Our interests at Humana align with physicians,” he added. “We recognize that the trust physicians and patrons build is core to the care of patients, and we also recognize that the job in care is a 365-day-a-year job.

"Many physician leaders see their patients four to five times a year. We have to think about how we will innovate around barriers to health.

"We have to determine how we can support care that goes beyond the doctor’s office, and how do we do that in an integrative way?”