Our Health-Care System Can’t Manage This Crisis Alone

Why a product-thinking mindset matters when our health-care system is in crisis.

Natasha Shields

By Natasha Shields
Vice President, Product

April 27, 2020 | 8 minute read

We know from experience that tragic events leave deep fissures far beyond the event itself. I remember traveling a few days following the September 11th attack on the United States and experiencing a deeply pessimistic sense of desolation. In retrospect, that tragedy has touched more than just our emotional lives—it changed our behavior and the way we examine global threats. Other tragedies, like Hurricane Katrina, have reshaped our worldview and subsequent actions in much the same way. Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic will have equal or even greater effects on our society. 

Much of this change will be driven by health-care brands—the world is expecting them to show courageous leadership and unparalleled innovation. These organizations must be flexible and adaptive given the rapidly emerging threats to our well-being. They must face these threats directly. As former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. once said, “We must meet the challenge rather than wish it were not before us.”

As the wife of a physician on the front lines, I recognize my husband and our family are now at greater risk given his clinical responsibilities and duty to the public at large. But as a product leader, I look at the coronavirus crisis and immediately think of the Jobs-To-Be-Done approach and how effectively this particular framework can help to serve the needs of all who are impacted by this deadly pandemic. 

The Jobs-To-Be-Done framework, pioneered by management consultant Tony Ulwick, posits that customers “hire” a company to provide a product if it helps them get something tangible done. Brands, Ulwick claims, should focus less on trying to guess which new shiny object might capture their customers’ attention, and more on identifying the underlying job that those customers actually need done. Specific products and solutions come and go, but the fundamental needs that necessitate those solutions remain relatively stable.

It’s true that many frameworks already put users first. But Jobs-To-Be-Done takes this customer-centricity further by shining a bright light on the motivating factors that drive customers to interact with a product in the first place. Although many companies choose to discard this framework in favor of more immediately attractive product-centric models, I believe the coronavirus crisis underscores the need for the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework.

A number of brands are already standing out, ensuring their long-term viability and genuinely meeting their customers’ needs through intentional innovation. These examples offer valuable lessons for any organization trying to navigate this crisis—and serve as a model for how organizations can meaningfully and authentically meet audience needs beyond their core service or product going forward. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful examples.

Job to be done: Identify gaps in coronavirus testing

Despite the wide-reaching impact of the coronavirus, most experts remain in the dark with regards to how many people are actually infected. Due in part to a hastily prepared public response, several brands have innovated to help address emerging needs. We’ve seen a number of brands realize that identifying gaps in coronavirus testing numbers is a real job that needs to get done—consumers cannot regain their confidence without these numbers publicly available. 

  • The University of Washington School of Medicine recognized its proximity to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. and understood that more testing was a real Job-To-Be-Done. Leaning on the expertise of faculty and staff, the medical school created its own COVID-19 test and helped the state’s leaders identify even more cases in the area.
  • The U.K.-based startup, Zoe, developed an app in response to the need for public self-reporting of COVID-19 symptoms. The new app is designed to aid medical researchers in pinpointing exactly where the most demanding needs are located. Its 750,000 downloads within 24 hours reinforces the value companies can create when they release timely products that respond intentionally to their customers’ real needs.
  • David Skorton, M.D., President and CEO, and David A. Acosta, M.D., Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), have underscored the imperative to centralize and collect national metrics to better understand and address the disproportionate effects of the pandemic upon communities of color and people in socio-economically disadvantaged conditions. Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, two Atlantic journalists, understood this early on in the crisis and executed on the need for making comprehensive testing metrics readily available by spearheading The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project. Alongside another Atlantic colleague, Ibram Kendi, the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a derivative measurement tool, was also born. These tools have quickly become essential resources for news and health-focused organizations seeking community-specific data. (Note: AAMC is an Atlantic 57 client.)
  • In a proactive move, following its decision to be one of the first to ground its fleet, Emirates Airlines is beginning to pilot rapid blood testing and produce results in 10 minutes for passengers who require a test certificate to enter certain countries. 

Job to be done: Continue treatment for pre-existing or recurring conditions

While the health-care sector’s attention is focused firmly on the coronavirus pandemic unfolding before us, we must not forget that people with pre-existing medical conditions still require attention and treatment from their regular care providers. These non-coronavirus medical needs will not suddenly disappear as the sector prioritizes new challenges. Leading health-care brands are addressing this Job-To-Be-Done without losing sight of the more immediate threats posed by the virus.

  • Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which is considered the U.S. epicenter of COVID-19, has spun up Mount Sinai NOW, a virtual experience that allows people to remain in quarantine while meeting with their health-care providers through video, text, and online options. Patients who have ongoing health-care needs value the opportunity to continue having their issues addressed despite this crisis. Over the last 30 days, the use of telehealth has soared and is projected to alter patient and provider expectations in the future.
  • In anticipation of patient overflow, Vermont’s National Guard was called upon to help transform a convention center into an alternate health-care facility almost overnight. This new facility provides an isolated locality which serves to free up overwhelmed resources.
  • Even the public sector is responding to this particular Job-To-Be-Done. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have lifted the regulatory burden for health organizations to serve patients using digital means in an effort to limit risk and exposure to COVID-19. Previously, health-care providers were reimbursed in a restricted manner based on whether or not the person receiving services lived in a specified rural area. Today those reimbursements are much easier to claim.

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Job to be done: Increase availability of lifesaving products

While most efforts have been to combat the invisible threat of coronavirus, our tools are distinctly physical and material. If companies are unable to meet the need for more life saving products, such as masks, ventilators, and non-perishable meals, the fight against this pandemic will be in vain. Fortunately, many companies (some of whom are not health-care brands at all) are understanding that this is a real Job-To-Be-Done, and are dramatically pivoting their operations to address that job.

This will not be the last time the health-care system is challenged with a catastrophic disease outbreak. Spanish Flu, SARS, MERS, Ebola, and Zika all required a combination of government and private industry contributions to end this kind of threat. 

In order to adequately address the tremendous burden of caring for patients and customers, health-care brands must double down on rapid decision making, create valuable experiences that address urgent needs, and harness their capacity for generosity. 

The product lines and services in which organizations are traditionally successful will continue. But people’s needs are evolving, and there is no better or more important time for health-care brands to identify those needs and fulfill them as Jobs-To-Be-Done. This framework is critical to helping organizations narrow their focus and think creatively about the “jobs” they’re best positioned to do beyond their core products and services. Adopting this approach will not only best position organizations to be of service right now, but further innovation, deepen trust between brands and people, and build loyalty that extends beyond the crisis.

As Americans, we have always risen to the challenges that confront us with intellect and determination. This global pandemic is an occasion to reestablish the ties that bind us to one another and get the job done.

Natasha Shields

Natasha Shields

Vice President, Product

Natasha Shields is the vice president of product at Atlantic 57. She brings multidisciplinary experience in product, technology, and strategy to help organizations advance digitally. She previously led product initiatives at the The Washington Post and AFTRA and actively works with Fortune 500 and nonprofit clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics with a concentration in Computer Science from UCLA.