by Steve Adubato, PhD

“Just to emphasize, open enrollment is six months…we have a long stretch so there is plenty of time for people who have a little difficulty today to log on tomorrow.” So says Jaime Torres, Regional Director with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the massive glitches, delays and breakdowns in the website as open enrollment in the national healthcare exchange began this week.

In an October 2 front page Star-Ledger story, David Glasker, an insurance broker from Westfield, said he was telling potential clients; “The system is down…just relax…it’s an easy thing…we have plenty of time to get insured.”

There are so many angles to national healthcare reform that have nothing to do with politics and public policy, but everything to do with communication, customer service and the way information is exchanged. Torres, Glasker and a whole range of folks who are tied to so-called “Obamacare” are communicating the message that the problems and confusion that millions of people without insurance are having when accessing is simply no big deal.

Officially, open-enrollment on the healthcare exchange extends to March 31, 2014, so logically, people have six-months to register, get insurance and avoid paying a penalty. But here’s the catch. One of the major problems is that virtually all of the communication and messaging around the exchange is what I call “WE-oriented” as opposed to “THEY-oriented”. To understand consumer behavior, before communicating to your audience it is essential to step back and ask yourself; “If I were on the other end of this, how would I likely respond?” If those who are communicating about the healthcare exchange were really asking this question, they would never say to “just relax” or “it’s an easy thing”. Why? Because the assumption that is being made is that those who are unable to access the website after trying for several hours will simply go back, day after day, and keep trying until they get through. Further, once they DO get through, the assumption is that they will have the patience, computer savvy and the understanding of the information being communicated on the site in order to navigate it in such a fashion in order to achieve the desired outcome. These assumptions from a basic communication and information perspective are astounding and pretty unrealistic.

One of the keys to effective leadership and communication is to present information in an easy to understand and accessible fashion. Once you create a series of complex barriers and obstacles that cause people to be frustrated, confused and sometimes even angry, they begin to ask this question; “Is it really worth all this trouble?” This is true whether you are talking about accessing an online healthcare exchange program to get affordable insurance, or, waiting on hold for 45-minutes in order to purchase a pay-per-view event on cable.

The message here is simple. Telling people to be patient is so easy to say. But the reality is, if these same leaders responsible for the healthcare exchange were truly empathizing with consumers, they would realize that most people’s lives are busy, complicated and consumed with other responsibilities and activities. Who has time to sit for several hours a day trying to go onto a website that is not working? And, once it DOES function properly, they then have the task of figuring out how to navigate it. Those aren’t simple questions and to assume that this is “no big deal” is a poor communication point of view. It trivializes the problem. This is a valuable lesson for all of us in the business of trying to connect and communicate with our customers and move them to take a certain action.