4 questions with COO Katie Catlender

With a proven track record of driving strategy to execution and transforming the customer experience, Katie Catlender is the executive vice president and chief operations officer for Point32Health. She oversees information technology, health plan operations, service and experience and the enterprise project management office.

Q: Prior to joining Point32Health, you worked for several health insurers. What keeps you interested in working on this side of the health care space?

Katie Catlender: For starters, I grew up in a family of health care workers. At the dining room table, health care and health equity were prominent topics of conversation. When I started thinking about my career, it was naturally ingrained to think about health care and helping others.

While studying health management and policy in college, I started my first internship with Harvard Community Health Plan and then joined Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (which became a Point32Health company in 2021) for a 17-year tenure in a variety of roles. From there, I worked for some competing health plans, eventually spending several years outside of health care. After being in financial services for five years, I decided to come back and apply those learnings to health care.

At Point32Health, my goal is to keep the customer at the center of everything we do from a strategic perspective including how we line up the organization, our talent, our culture and the way in which we operate, from an outside-in perspective. There’s an importance in aligning our operating model to focus on end-to-end business processes that take waste out of the process to provide better value and quicker resolutions, as well as optimize how we work from a technology standpoint. There are four pillars to operational excellence that enable competitive advantage in operations. They are resiliency, efficiency, effectiveness and experience. When you have the opportunity to drive results and outcomes for the community in this context, you enable strategic advantage because of the way you leverage talent, processes and automation/technology, with a stakeholder lens. This cohesion to execute on our purpose is what I’m really passionate about.

Q: What are differentiators for Point32Health as a health plan, and how can they be used to drive the customer experience?

KC: Point32Health really is a unique organization, especially locally from a health plan perspective. We’re fortunate to be able to support the health and well-being of our members across any stage of their lives, whether they’re leveraging Medicaid as a support, are a Medicare member or are purchasing insurance through a commercial or individual product. And as a local health plan, we have the added benefit of being able to orient our operating model to reflect what our members really need since our colleagues live and work in the same communities.

Within our workforce, having different voices at the table is also critical to how we make decisions. It’s exciting that two thirds of our workforce are women, as well as about a third of women of color are in management positions. Having diverse perspectives allows us to better serve our members by sharing our own lived experiences and challenging each other’s assumptions of how we need to operate as an organization together.

And when you have the right workforce in place, you can focus on aligning diverse perspectives with insights from what our data is telling us. That combination, in the context of our strategy, enables us to deeply understand the needs of the members we serve, and focus execution effectively for outcomes that matter to our colleagues, our community and our stakeholders.

Q: When you think of what’s on the horizon for this year, what are you excited to focus on in the near term at Point32Health?

KC: There’s so much to be excited about but improving the customer experience through effective, efficient ways of delivering value to those we serve and for our colleagues has always been a passion of mine. At Point32Health, our members are at the center of everything we do, and that also means our colleagues must have what they need to excel in their work. We need to have focused execution on what’s important to them and the community and take cost out of the health care system—really being brilliant at the basics will make a difference.

So how do we determine what’s important to our member population? We start with data-driven insights. There are a few examples of how we get at customer insights. For instance, we ask customers for input on their experience with us. This is called a voice of customer program. These insights drive how we remove friction. Other insights are captured through the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, part of the Point32Health family of companies and an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. The Institute’s Department of Population Medicine researches a broad range of health care issues, which we can then use to solve for needs based on what that data is telling us.

On the flip side, knowing that members often have individual health needs, how can we avoid a one-size-fits-all approach? Personalization is taken into consideration when deciding the products, programs and services we offer, but it’s also considered when the unexpected occurs. If there’s an out-of-the-box problem a customer is experiencing, it often needs an out-of-the-box solution. I like to find that solution, as well as empower other colleagues to do the same.

Q: What trends do you see shaping the future of customer experience?

KC: There’s a lot of dynamics at play in the health care industry. More and more, consumers want to feel empowered to make their own health decisions and be in control of their health experience, and health plans need to evolve to support that, including how we partner with providers, employers, brokers and technology partners. We are very purposeful in how we think about the ecosystem around the member experience, and we are being deliberate with how we work alongside partners and vendors to take advantage of new ways of working and technology enablement that has the power to enable us to do so with insight, seamlessness, speed and ease for the consumer. Some of the digital capabilities and technologies such as robotic process automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence enable new ways of delivering on our strategy.

We also need to be adaptable when it comes to an ever-changing regulatory landscape. This includes clear understanding of what’s on the horizon, how we’ll support the evolving guidance, and how we’ll ensure we are flexible and control our environment to comply, protect, monitor and adjust how we operate for any of our lines of business as necessary.

Q: You’ve had much success in your career thus far. Do you have any advice for those working towards leaderships roles?

KC: Leadership comes in so many forms, you don’t always need a title to demonstrate leadership. Whether you’re in a leadership role or working towards one, I think we can all learn something just by listening to one another and showing empathy as we work together. It’s always broadened my perspective as a result, which gives the organization a better outcome, and it helps with developing strong relationships.

Pay attention to who is speaking up and who isn’t. Ask questions, start a conversation in a way that asks a question or provokes a challenging point of view so that others feel safe to speak up and share their opinions.

Get comfortable being a little uncomfortable pushing yourself, your team or trying something new. We need to embrace change. We are in a highly evolving industry and navigating through the gray, and helping people through it, and charting a new path, is a terrific leadership skill, including what is learned when bumps happen.

Stay close to the people who are doing the work in the organization, they know what works, what doesn’t and how it impacts the customer. The advantage a leader has is being able to make decisions to influence change. Yet often, leaders are more removed from what needs to change. It’s a huge leadership advantage to get to know your people and listen to their perspectives.

Words matter, communicate a lot, be transparent, critique sensitively and give kudos often. Have fun at work, even when working through challenging times. We spend a lot of time with the people we work with, so we should enjoy it and have a few laughs!