This year, Prophet expanded its Brand Relevance Index™ to measure more healthcare companies, including both health systems and insurance companies. Our Index is designed to gauge the strength of brands and is based exclusively on customer insight. It covers many industries and gets to the essence of what makes a brand successful. The relentlessly relevant brands that top our list aren’t just great within their respective field, but across all categories.

As consumerism continues to play a bigger role in healthcare, understanding what makes brands relentlessly relevant will grow in importance. To achieve a high degree of relevance, brands must do well on four principles: Customer obsession, ruthless pragmatism, distinctive inspiration and pervasive innovation.

Unfortunately, today’s healthcare brands aren’t faring very well.

As seen in other studies, including Prophet’s recent patient experience study, health systems are perceived somewhat better than insurers. This is consistent with our Brand Relevance Index™, which shows health systems falling within the 50th and 70th percentiles, while payers tend to rank much lower, mostly in 10th and 20th percentiles.

Of course, those low scores probably aren’t overly surprising to many in healthcare. But it is worth noting that brands such as Google, Microsoft, Fitbit and HP rank in the top 50, and each of them are actively defining themselves as healthcare brands. If healthcare organizations don’t better understand and build their own brands with consumers, they are merely waiting to be disrupted by those who do.

The top five companies in our Index are Apple, Amazon, Android, Netflix and Google. These over-loved brands are likely to get eye rolls from healthcare companies. Our Index also gives high marks to companies like LEGO, Disney, Dove, and Fisher-Price. It’s important to note that as consumers, we don’t look at these brands and think about them in terms of the industry they are in. We see them for what they stand for, not what they make.

This insight is critical for healthcare systems and insurers, who are fond of focusing on how different they are from the competitor across the street. But to win with consumers overall, these organizations need to see how they compare with many other brands, not just within their competitive set.

For healthcare organizations to create relentlessly relevant brands, it’s important to know their strengths.

All the health systems in our Index spike on measures related to inspiration. That makes sense: Many are academic institutions and pride themselves on the research they do and the discoveries they make.

At the same time, all the health insurers perform best on markers for pragmatism, and again, that’s logical: What good is an insurance company that doesn’t pay claims on time? But it’s worth noting that on all other measures, their performance is weak. That offers meaningful clues about what’s not working.

In healthcare, there is a chasm—not just a gap—in understanding consumers. Our research finds that even though most healthcare companies give themselves poor marks for patient experiences, actual patients rate them even worse. Across the board for healthcare companies, customer obsession is the weakest of the four core characteristics of relentlessly relevant brands. This isn’t news, of course, and those of us in healthcare appreciate the bumpy road that got us here. But the magnitude of the problem is greater than most organizations realize.

We all know it’s not a quick fix, but one way to begin to improve patient experience is by forging partnerships with more relevant brands and companies. Three recent examples:

  1. Medtronic and Fitbit have come together to integrate the former’s continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) with the latter’s activity trackers, to create a more holistic approach to managing Type 2 diabetes. It gives patients greater control of their health in a way that’s easy and even fun.
  2. Hospital systems like MedStar Health in Washington D.C. are partnering with Uber and Lyft to bring patients without access to private transportation to their medical appointments. Fewer missed appointments mean better outcomes, more adherence, and greater operating efficiency.
  3. CVS is working with health systems like John Muir and Novant Health to make care more accessible, provide caretakers with better data on patients, and increase adherence to medications.

These moves can be challenging for healthcare companies, especially those so wrapped up in competitive mergers that they’re oblivious to the need for – and the possibilities of—consumer-facing partnerships. But it’s a useful short-term road to relevance. Because so many consumer companies want to find their way into healthcare but don’t quite know how, there are plenty of win-win options. While such arrangements can’t take the place of a full commitment to increasing relevance, they’re a good start. And they can kick start healthcare brands’ efforts to give consumers what they want.