Adam Butler
May 3, 2022

What does “product” mean in a virtual healthcare service environment?

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I have worn a product hat in healthcare for the last ten years, working at a large health insurer and then as an early employee for a health insurance start-up. As I started out in a role as a junior Product Manager (PM), I had read all highly recommended books on product management and was motivated by what I thought was absolutely undeniable common sense. The “best practices” were so clear and intuitive that I figured if I just followed these guidelines, I would have a successful future as a PM. I read about product team structures, responsibilities, and notably how the product interacts with other teams. I believed that if I did my part to follow these guidelines I would never deliver a product that failed.

Two months into my first role it became painfully clear how wrong I was. Why? Because there was no alignment on the most foundational question, “what is our product?”

I would hear the following:

Company: “Product is focused on the digital interactions a member has with the company. For example the app.”

Me: “Ok — the website too, since our members interact with it?”

Company: “No, that is marketing, don’t worry about the website.”

Me: 🤨


Company: “Product is focused on what the user pays for. We think of it as basically what sits on the shelf”

Me: “Ok — so as a health insurance company, you mean the health insurance plan including the benefits plan design and everything that comes with that.”

Company: “No, that is what the business line and the actuarial team are responsible for. Focus on the other things like customer service design, the app, and some parts of the website.”

Me: 🤨


Company: “Product is the mini CEO of the company”

Me: “Amazing! Let me get the teams together as I have put together some thoughts on how we can increase enrollment by 15% and improve our service experience.”

Company: “You will have to see what the marketing team is doing and what their plan is. As for any changes to the service, the operations team already has a plan they are executing against.”

Me: 🤨

The punchline: how the product is defined and executed in one company is just that — for one company.

I now have the privilege of leading the product organization for Curai Health. We are on a mission to deliver high-quality and affordable virtual care to everyone. In a time where every month we learn of a new “virtual care company,” we as a leadership team are keenly aware that how we organize and align, especially in a virtual environment, is critical to the company’s success.

With my years working in healthcare products paired with practices from top tech and SaaS companies, we have developed a structure and set of rhythms to ensure we are set up to deliver a valuable and differentiated experience for our patients.

  1. Team Structure: Everyone and anything that interacts with our patients
  2. Team Rhythms: Centralized communication and transparent processes
  3. Team Culture: High collaboration with high accountability and open questioning

The Curai Product Team Structure: Anyone and Anything directly influences the patient’s interactions.

When the primary point of value a company delivers is a person-to-person service, it is senseless to separate the digital experience from the actual service experience. When the two sides of the experience are this closely aligned, teams can make changes and tradeoffs quicker and ensure neither the provider nor the patient is negatively impacted. This sounds obvious in theory, but product organizations rarely include the operations that oversee the services. Similarly, when a prospective patient learns of the company and then ultimately enrolls, why wouldn’t this important first interaction be considered part of the product experience? The pre-purchase decisions and the tactics behind the experience will influence patient expectations post-enrollment and therefore overall satisfaction with the product.

With these considerations in mind, the Curai product organization is comprised of mostly non-clinical individuals and teams that directly enable the entire patient and provider experience. This includes traditional product managers, product marketing, UX, patient support as well as the individuals that oversee the clinical service operation. Having product marketing, product managers and a UX team unified under one umbrella is fairly common, but the true power of a virtual health services company is aligning the product discovery and development with the team directly supporting our clinicians. When a company separates these two, they risk having too many ideological and “happy path” solutions that are disconnected from the potential realities of the service and disconnected feedback loops from the end-user. The other benefit is having the provider workspace product team and the patient product team being in total agreement on ways we can improve both the patient experience without inadvertently compromising the provider experience (and vice-versa). Because Curai’s technology is an enabler of two-way communication between our patients and providers, the teams must be in lockstep.

With this structure comes the added benefit of a team having a common set of norms and cadences. This includes common management priorities, meeting cadence, and execution expectations. This level of alignment encourages and promotes a level of camaraderie, accountability, and partnership that would otherwise take a daunting amount of work to achieve cross-functionally. That said, this is far from everyone that contributes to delivering an excellent service experience. Coordination and alignment with other teams particularly our engineering and clinical team is imperative. I will get more into this in What does product mean in a virtual healthcare service environment — Part II when I discuss Team Rhythms as the key to success here stretches far beyond the product and operations team.

When a company has every touchpoint of the patient experience covered by listening and interpreting what our users are experiencing, the patient and all stakeholders win. In absence of this, you risk a significant disconnect between the teams tasked with determining what to build with the team tasked with delivering on the product promise.

While product team structure and composition do not guarantee business success, it certainly helps set a solid foundation to build upon. In part II I will dive into other critical elements of a high-performing product organization — Team Rhythms and culture. Until then, here is a quote for all the other passionate product leaders out there.

“At the end of the day, your job isn’t to get the requirements right — your job is to change the world.”

– Jeff Patton, Veteran Product Manager and Consultant

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