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On the Third Hand: Human Factors

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The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) is holding its latest annual convention in the Wynn Las Vegas, a resort that looks as if it was designed by the forces that designed the U.S. health care system.

Like the U.S. health care system, the Wynn is big, expensive and does important work.

You can hold a meeting there, get married, gamble your life savings away at the baccarat or poker tables, swim, or get a cup of coffee or a meal.

What you can’t easily do at the Wynn is figure out where the heck you are.

It’s easy to figure out how to get to the bars, the slot machines and the blackjack tables, but not too easy to get anywhere else.

There are signs overhead that seem to hint at what might be at the end of the long, long corridor but aren’t particularly comprehensive or aimed at directing me to the resort facilities that I (a hard-working insurance reporter who’s not here to gamble or get married) want to find, such as the place that sells coffee.

The Wynn provides a printed brochure with a map, but it’s not all that easy for me, a user who’s new to the resort, to figure where I am on the map.

The Wynn also provides a Wynn phone app. The app is great at marketing the events and products the resort company wants to cross-sell to me, such as show tickets, but it doesn’t tell me what I personally want to know, such as which restaurants are open right now, what’s on their menus, and is a bouncer with a gold tooth going to make me swim with the fishes because I got lost and somehow ended up in what seems to be a special lobby for high rollers.

What makes the system work, kind of, are navigators. The Wynn has posted nice, intelligent live human beings who do know where they are and what’s open at strategic points in its corridors. Guests can stumble up to the navigators and get the information they need to avoid roaming in circles around the casino floor for all eternity.

I think the Wynn should be a lesson for the folks designing the exchange systems required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), or whatever other systems we’ll end up with PPACA disappears: People who think a nice website, or inexperienced “navigators” who are working in a call center in Siberia, are going to be able to help consumers deal with health care and health insurance hassles in an effective way are kidding themselves.

The developers of websites and apps never think up all of the questions, or even the most important, most common questions that consumers are going to ask. Organizational charts will never be completely up to date.  Automated systems will never perform flawlessly 24/7. And some consumers are always going to need help fro genuine, intelligent, experienced, opinionated live humans, not just low-level hirelings who can say what a script system tells them to say and nothing else.

Either exchange program managers make sure competent agents and brokers are involved from the start, or consumers and brokers will abhor the information vacuum and re-create the brokerage advice system on their own, anyway.