Operations and Supply Chain Management; Management

Date of this version


Document Type



Affordable Care Act, Strategy, Disruptive Innovation, United HealthGroup


Industry leaders have been put on the defensive in their need to address mounting financial and operational concerns. In a previous, companion paper, it was suggested that healthcare managers need to balance financial challenges with innovative programming that enhances their strategic mix to find new ways to counter the disruption from the ACA. This paper illustrates a practical example of the applications of this innovation model which touches on three activities: (1) aligning the organization’s purpose with its markets, (2) piloting ideas, and (3) learning from a variety of stakeholders in and outside of the traditional healthcare domain.

United HealthGroup (UHG) has developed a new program in the area of health literacy (Just Plain Clear) that illustrates these principles. Based on the organization’s mission of “helping people live healthier lives” it was clear that there was a need to more effectively communicate with their customers.

As part of their effort to pilot ideas UHG developed a tool to analyze documents to determine the reading levels needed to understand the documents used by their customers and how to modify then for easier reading. They then decided that a glossary of medical terms in English and Spanish would be a good way to begin addressing health literacy issues among its customers.

Learning from stakeholders the UHG staff consulted with the Institute of Medicine; America’s Health Insurance Plans; medical schools at Northwestern University, Boston University, and the University of Missouri; the RAND Corporation; and the Center for Plain Language. In addition, UHG staff reviewed more than 800 journal articles on health literacy.

In 2014, the Just Plain Clear website had 22,600 visitors and its use continues to grow. UHG considers this pilot program a success.

Published in

Journal of Health Care Management

Citation/Other Information

60(4), 243-245