With a powerfully engaged group of some of the best minds in healthcare, we kicked off Trailblaze, our healthcare innovation summit, with an inspirational keynote from New York Times bestselling author & Blue Zones Founder, Dan Buettner

What are the blue zones? Blue zones are areas of the world in which people live exceptionally long lives. Dan and his team researched and identified five regions around the globe that all share habits and practices that increase longevity, health, and happiness. 

Dan revealed the secrets from his blue zones research on longevity and the healthiest places in the world (including Ikaria, Greece, the inspiration for the Icario name and mission), as well as the common lifestyle and cultural traits of those locations. He also discussed how these concepts have been implemented in communities throughout the US and what the findings mean for helping members live their best lives.

To help members live a healthier life, Dan explored his Life Radius concept which instead of focusing on the individual, focuses on the environment. One example is to engineer neighborhoods to encourage movement by building bikeways, walking paths, planting trees, and developing parks⁠—make the neighborhood a “humans first, car drives second” environment. The secret is to not only make the healthy choice the easy choice, but the only choice.

“Health behaviors are as contagious, measurably, as catching a cold.”


Dan Buettner

Blue Zones Founder, New York Times Bestselling Author & National Geographic Fellow, and Opening Keynote at Trailblaze 2022

As the day progressed and we moved into healthcare-focused panel sessions, a central theme began to emerge that became the heart of the conference and the conversations: Member Experience.

Here are 3 Key Member Experience Insights From Trailblaze 2022

#1—What We Can Learn From Retail to Elevate the Member Experience

Convenience. Personalization. Speed. Service. The retail industry has got a lot of things right during the consumer experience revolution. Leading health plans have been wise to take note and are adapting powerful retail concepts to transform the member experience. Many of our panelists spoke about how meeting the rise of consumer expectations has become a critical success factor for health plans to engage and retain members.

The battle in the retail market is one in which some groups are competing and recognizing that the way to get the most out of their consumers is to serve them in a way in which they want. To combat this, retail has speedily adopted a multi-channel experience that focuses first on the consumer’s emotional response and second on their desire to purchase.

It’s important for health plans to recognize the connection between member experience and emotional response. Leading health plans are adopting the multi-channel approach and are focused on members feeling empowered, heard, and cared about.

“As a healthcare consumer, it’s about feeling empowered, heard, and listened to throughout our experience.”


Kimberly Switlick-Prose

VP, Enterprise Star Performance, Elevance Health

When you walk into a Target or Walmart, you know what to expect. You know the layout of the store. The uniform of the employees. And the prices of items are clearly marked. Going a level deeper is an inherent level of trust. You trust these retailers to provide the same experience no matter which location you enter. Innovation and opportunities are happening for health plans by meeting members where they are and becoming more trusted brands focused on wellness for their consumers.

Trailblaze Session: A New Kind of Thinking: Using Retail Strategies to Elevate the Member Experience

#2Simplify Your Language: Talk Like a Human

To help members feel empowered, heard, and cared about, health plans need to make medical language more approachable and place it in a consumer context. When writing member communications, ask yourself “How would I explain this program to my mom or dad?” Language is a simple yet powerful way to connect to members and meet them where they are.

Several panelists spoke about how they hire teams to review materials and help make the information digestible at a 5th or 8th-grade level.

“51% of Americans would struggle to read a book at the 8th-grade level.”


Ingrid Lindberg

CEO & Founder, Chief Customer

This eye-opening statistic solidifies the need to challenge the traditional mindset that “technical is better.”

Making member communications more colloquial doesn’t have to be difficult either. A simple change such as saying “We treat for sugar” versus “We treat diabetes” can vastly impact the success of a diabetes management enrollment program. Plain language takes complicated healthcare programs and not only makes them easy to read, but also easy to understand.

And don’t forget to thank your members. A quick, “thank you” goes a long way. Small things like a “hello” or a “thank you” matter and can have a profound impact.

“Language is what you use to make people feel welcome and comfortable.”


Marcus Osborne

Former SVP, Walmart Health

Trailblaze Session: From Insights to Action: How to Level Up CAHPS Scores & Boost ROI

Health Equity Recipe

The Health Equity Recipe: 4 Ingredients for Health Plans to Break Barriers and Address Disparities

Break barriers and build trust, connection, and empathy alongside members on their journey to better health outcomes.

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#3—Jane’s Story: A Person, Not a Number

We were incredibly lucky to hear from Jane, a Clubhouse Member at Vail Place, on our panel, “On a Mission to Break Down SDoH Barriers – Real Stories From Life-Changing Initiatives.” Jane was referred to Vail Place and initially said no, but three years later reached out with interest because she was experiencing consistent hospital visits.

Today Jane feels healthier and has not had a hospital visit in 6 years because she’s been able to attend her doctor’s appointments.

When asked how Vail Place has helped her aside from doctor’s appointments, Jane said, “Vail Place helps me with community support, employment, and socialization.” Having a support system was at the heart of Jane’s story. Being connected to other people who understood the challenges she faced every day provided a sense of community, security, and belonging.

“Loneliness, an increasing social determinant, especially in the US, shaves about 8 years off of life expectancy.”


Dan Buettner

Blue Zones Founder, New York Times Bestselling Author & National Geographic Fellow, and Opening Keynote at Trailblaze 2022

When designing an SDoH program, it’s important to adopt a multi-pronged approach that involves seeing people as people and asking what the challenges are that people are facing and how we can solve them. It’s not enough just to address one barrier, but to build a program that looks at a member holistically by helping build necessary life skills such as nutrition, cooking skills, yoga, hiking, employment services, financial literacy, and creating a social network. 

One approach to building out a comprehensive SDoH program is for health plans to tap into the work community members have been doing for years. 

“Health plan programs should not always try new things but rather sit at the table and identify opportunities to bring smarter and cost-savings programs to community members.”


Julie Plante

Director of Integrated Care, Vail Place

Trailblaze Session: On a Mission to Break Down SDoH Barriers – Real Stories From Life-Changing Initiatives

Partnering with the different types of healthcare workers that are already doing the work such as public health nurses, social workers, and community healthcare workers allows for a deeper connection not only to the community but to the member by creating advocates. 

Access to an advocate is important to help those facing SDoH barriers find the guided support they need in a language they understand. Using this approach meant that Jane was seen as a person instead of a number and experienced a life-changing outcome as a result. 

Craig Kennedy, President and CEO, Medicaid Health Plans of America, said it best.

“SDoH isn’t just a buzzword, it’s people’s everyday lives.”


Craig Kennedy

President and CEO, Medicaid Health Plans of America (MHPA)

Trailblaze Session: Turning the Tide on Health Equity & SDoH

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