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We are in crisis.

Right now, everyone in the health care payer ecosystem — from the health plan CEO to the IT back-office team and the front-line customer service agents — has rallied around two related goals. Those are keeping members and associates safe and ensuring access to care for those who become sick. 

But as the country begins to reopen and recover, we know the world is not going to return to the status quo or business as usual.

We also recognize that many health care leaders have made nimble and swift decisions amid the chaos. They’re breeding innovation and new ways of doing things. 

As organizations pivot their focus to the future, leaders should lean into the good that has come from this pandemic. And they must resist the urge to fall back into old, familiar habits. 

There are several change management principles that can help health care leaders harness present creativity and innovation for the future.

Stakeholder identification

Few current generations have dealt with anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet everyone in health care has risen to the challenge. Many have taken on different roles than they signed up to play. 

As we look to the future, it will be critically important for leaders to assess how this crisis has impacted different stakeholders within their organizations. 

Some staff have been furloughed; some are working overtime hours and extended schedules. Some are doing different jobs than they were trained to do. While others have not been able to do their jobs at full capacity for several months. 

Some staff may be returning to the office, while others may continue to work from home for their safety and that of their family members. 

It’s also important to consider staff stress levels. To be able to hardwire newfound creativity and interconnectedness into organizational culture, health plan leaders must be able to identify:

  • Key stakeholder groups
  • How each group has been affected differently by the crisis
  • What types of support they’ll need from leadership moving forward

Key questions leaders can ask to help identify and support stakeholders:

  • What positive changes have ensued during our COVID-19 response? And how can we continue to operate going forward?
  • Who within the senior levels of our organization needs to understand the implications of these changes? And how can we create process and policy changes to support new operating norms?
  • Which other stakeholders do we need to involve to understand and harmonize these changes within our overall operating model?


Each stakeholder group’s needs will vary and look different. Successful leaders must customize and adapt communications to each group of people. 

A communication strategy cannot be a one-size-fits-all plan. Health plan executives must execute their crisis communication strategies the right way. If they don’t, it can be very costly both now and when the COVID-19 crisis has subsided.

Important communications questions for leaders to consider include:

  • What is the right messaging to convey to each stakeholder group? Consider the most common questions and have answers to questions you know are on stakeholders’ minds. Be prepared to say, “We don’t know yet.”
  • What are the best communication mechanisms to use? Examples include:
    • Group huddles
    • Town hall meetings
    • Email
    • Newsletters
    • Website postings with a “submit a question” feature
    • 1:1 meetings
  • What is the right amount of information to share with each stakeholder group? A key part of communication is listening. Take time to get to know your audience(s).

Lessons learned

The quality of how health care organizations debrief and learn from the COVID-19 pandemic will better enable them to:

  • Expose and preempt future failures, bottlenecks and capacity constraints
  • Address these issues
  • Mitigate them moving forward

Amid crisis, a clarity of goals and priorities forced health care organizations to be nimble and decisive. As we move out of crisis mode, how can leadership continue to communicate clarity around goals? This helps us harness energy and not return to old habits.

The current crisis provides all of us the opportunity to continually ask the questions, “What did we learn? What do we need? And where do we pivot?” 

As organizations look back on lessons learned during this time, it will be important to identify and capitalize on the positive satisfiers that have arisen for members, customers, providers and associates. 

Potential examples include telehealth and virtual care adoption, consumerism, increased telecommuting, and the relaxation of regulations and legal changes. 

For these positive changes to remain sustainable, senior leaders should lead the conversations on how to operationalize these changes to ensure long-term adoption. 

Health care organizations can use the external crisis to hardwire the processes they’ll need. Then they can be innovative architects when they start to pick up and put the pieces of their operating models back together. 

These change management components are essential competencies for the current evolving landscape and future success.

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About the Authors


Craig Savage, Optum Advisory Services

Craig leads the payer advisory practice of Optum Advisory Services. In this role, he partners with leading health insurers to drive sustainable growth and profitability amid rapidly evolving business and operating models, advanced technologies and enterprise capabilities. Craig and his team bring strategic insights and implementation expertise informed by deep health care operations knowledge and the unique delivery capabilities of Optum.

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Mallory Van Horn, Optum Advisory Services

Mallory Van Horn has 20 years of health care experience, including HEDIS and CAHPS. She focuses on clinical quality measurement and reporting, state regulatory clinical quality reporting requirements, administrative data improvement strategies and compliance audits.

She currently oversees the Health Management and Operations practice for Optum Advisory Services. In that role, she had accountability for over 80 HEDIS and CAHPS submissions on an annual basis.

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Hollie Couch, Optum Advisory Services

Hollie has been with Optum for more than 21 years and currently serves as a consulting director within Optum Advisory Services.

Hollie specializes in helping health care organizations develop and implement alternatives to current health care practices to improve employee wellness. She provides education to change patterns of care in order to decrease cost for both employees and employers.


Dyanne Lane, Optum Advisory Services

Dyanne is an Optum Advisory Services director with more than 20 years of experience in health system management within multiple settings, including hospitals, managed care organizations, independent and health system-sponsored physician practices and occupational health programs.

She leads initiatives helping clients build foundations in governance, analytics and reporting to support the clinical and operational changes that drive sustainable outcomes.


Michelle Poulin, Optum Advisory Services

Michelle is a partner in the Health System Performance Improvement practice at Optum Advisory Services. She leads enterprise-wide strategy development and the execution of enterprise-wide transformation initiatives for health care systems and provider organizations.

Michelle has more than 20 years of experience in management consulting, strategy and operations in the health care industry.

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