Growing up in Malaysia, Jack Khera remembers an early career-defining conversation with his father.
“My dad is the oldest of 10 siblings, and as a young man he had to quickly earn an income and support the family,” the BlueCross director of digital experience says. “From day one he encouraged me to think about a specific line of interest. He said, ‘Here are three key areas to consider: medicine, law and engineering.’
“My siblings went into the medical field, and my uncles were lawyers, so those didn’t interest me,” Jack continues. “But I was intrigued by everything as a child. I would try to pry mechanisms open, figure out how they work, fix them, etc. Engineering was a natural extension of that curiosity. I found my way into that field through parental guidance mixed with passion and the space of opportunity.”
That space of opportunity was easier for Jack to find his way into thanks to the three languages he learned as a child.
“My native language is Punjabi, but I attended a school where we spoke Malay, the national language,” Jack says. “And because Malaysia was colonized by the British, my parents spoke fluent English. On top of those three distinct languages, there’s a ‘Malaysianalized’ language, which is a mixture of all three.”
Jack soon picked up a fourth language – Hindi – through lessons at school, and a fifth soon thereafter.
“I was in a school with 34 students, and 33 were Chinese,” Jack recalls. “That’s where I learned Cantonese. All of these languages have benefited me greatly.”
“Your brain is wired differently when you know different languages, which is certainly a benefit for an engineer.”
Changes in latitudes
Jack left home at 20 to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering in the United Kingdom. He returned home to work as an engineer, but first set foot in the United States in August 2000. He came to the U.S. in pursuit of an ecommerce MBA through the Kauffman Foundation, which provides scholarships to only a handful of international students annually. His scholarship took him to a rather unforgiving place, weather-wise: Iowa.
“I walked out of the airport, and right into the middle of a heat wave,” Jack recalls with a laugh. “I’m looking around, like, ‘Is this America?’ As far as your eyes could see either way, there was nothing. Nothing but a Howard Johnson hotel. It was a complete culture shock. Singapore is very hustle-bustle, busy-busy. Iowa was a complete 180.”
While working on his MBA, Jack received his first taste of working in the health care space. Fittingly, it involved figuring out how something worked and applying it to saving lives.
“My experiences in the mechanical engineering field were similar to what’s happening within the health care space now – specifically, the rapid pace of digitalization,” Jack says. “Things were being modernized, and my thesis year project merged technology with health care. It was focused on abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA), which only have a short window before they rupture.
“My team looked at a scenario in which multiple people come in to a hospital with an aneurysm at the same time,” he continues. “Who’s more critical? Who’s going to rupture first? We started with software being used heavily within the oil and gas industry to determine stress within pipelines and the timeframe in which they rupture. We leveraged that software against our scenario and added attributes of AAA: blood viscosity, heartbeat, age, etc. It could basically tell us at what point the aneurysm would rupture. The principle was the same, but the application was different.”Taking a technical application and giving it a medical – and ultimately, human – spin marked a turning point in Jack’s career.
“That project was my entrance into the health care field,” he says. “It just took a few years to find my way into improving the member experience.”
After earning his MBA, Jack went to work for a U.K.-based ecommerce company with an office in Scotland. That in turn opened the door for extensive world travel. China, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, India and Scotland were just a few of the countries he visited.
“I had sort of a dual role within this wholesale company,” Jack remembers. “It was setting up the ecommerce side of things, but because of my language skills, I was able to help with sourcing and negotiation. If we went to China to talk business, being able to speak the language was obviously a huge advantage.”
From there Jack bounced around to a few different companies, even working for a small health insurance firm, before finding his way to BlueCross in 2014. The opportunity rekindled his interest in merging technology with helping people live healthier lives – and for the first time allowed him to connect with people every day who shared his passion.
“As an engineer, your mind is very technical – you’re given a task, you go do it,” Jack says. “There’s not much of a ‘team’ type skill set that you need. You don’t really think about management. But in my current role, I’m leading a team and working with new people across the company. I’ve been here almost four years, and I still meet someone new every single week.”
At the heart of those connections is a job satisfaction among employees that Jack had not experienced elsewhere. From the focus on diversity efforts at BlueCross to company leadership that isn’t focused solely on business gain but rather the health of Tennessee – see our re-entry into the Knoxville marketplace – Jack saw very clear, thoughtful actions that he describes as “priceless.”
“I’ve worked in many different organizations where the notion of ensuring everyone has a voice and making a difference in the community is just all talk,” he says.
“At BlueCross, ‘peace of mind through better health’ is more than just a mission statement – it starts at the top and trickles down to the entire organization. Everyone here is heard, respected and understood, meaning we all move toward that common goal and work in tandem to achieve it. ”
Charting a course
Jack’s current major project is to boost our members’ use of digital channels and devices and make it easier for them to connect with resources offered by BlueCross. Part of that project involves the creation and implementation of a digital roadmap for the avenues we’re actively working toward creating for our members.
Members tell BlueCross they want digital connectedness and convenience to help drive their health care, and Jack and the digital team are constantly motivated and guided on behalf of our members by these three questions:
- How are we reducing cost?
- How are we making things more transparent?
- Most importantly, how are we making things simpler?
“There are several concepts we’re working on to address these,” Jack says. “One of the biggest is member reward and incentive programs. These encourage our members to shop smarter because the notion of ‘high cost equals high quality’ is not always the case.”
Jack points to knee surgery as an example. The cost can be upward of $40,000. But it’s possible for you to have the same quality of surgery, the same quality of facility and the same quality of physician and pay $15,000.
“The question for us is, how do we incentivize that for the member?” Jack says. “How do we communicate, ‘If you follow our advice and go with this cost-effective option that’s a few miles further away, your services could cost less’?”
Another part of our efforts to swim with the tide of digital change is looking closely at voice-enabled benefit plan assistance. At the end of 2017, there were 40 million households with a voice-enabled device. Alexa was the No. 1 selling product on Black Friday. By the end of this year, that number is expected to grow to more than 100 million.
“Imagine if you could ask your device, ‘Where is the closest hip replacement procedure within a five-mile radius of where I live’?” Jack says.
“We want devices to be able to answer this, and to tell you, ‘Oh, and if you go to this place or see this physician for your procedure, you also get a reward from your insurer.’ We’re also considering the functional vs emotional elements, such as how is the member going to feel when they go through it? Is it easy? Does it meet their requirements? Which communication channel or platform do they prefer? Can they access it at the time that they want?”
Jack understands that members are adopting digitalization at a very fast pace, and to keep up with the preferences of society at large will ultimately mean some unprecedented yet positive changes. BlueCross is more than willing to accept the challenge.
“We are in a place where people are comparing us to the last best digital experience they had,” Jack says. “If I can place an order within two or three clicks on Amazon, how many clicks or voice commands should it take me to pay my bill, or to search for a doctor, or to look at my claims, or to look at my explanation of benefits?”
Jack acknowledges that discussions about expanding into the digital realm, especially when it comes to protected health information, can make some people a little uneasy.
“Change is difficult, and with it comes a lot of trepidation,” he says. “Whether it’s a department change, a role change, a change in leadership, a change in function, or a change in business. But it’s the one thing that’s truly exciting about what I do. When you say digital, that to me means constant change. ”
While there’s no firm time table in place, all of these efforts and enhancements are a priority for BlueCross. We’re constantly investing in health management for our members and working toward making your health care a more personalized, efficient, secure and cost-effective experience.
Hanging his hat
Outside of the office, Jack spends his free time with his wife, Sharan, and their sons, Sidharth and Neal, who are turning 8 and 11 this year. They love to travel domestically and internationally, go on long hikes and watch “Jeopardy!” as a family, but Jack finds himself restless on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Khera family travels to Singapore every two years or so. Jack’s extended family is large and close-knit, and he wishes he could see them more, but the journey is difficult. Door to door one way, it’s 32 hours of travel.
Even though he has no plans to leave Chattanooga – his favorite city he’s lived in – or his favorite company, Jack can’t help but maintain a vagabond’s perspective.
“There’s a song that says ‘where you lay your head is home,’” Jack says wistfully. “I enjoy every single place I go, and I think you’ve got to see the beauty in the place itself. I see things in totality, and change equals growth, and that’s healthy. But I wake up every morning, and I’m happy. I wake up knowing that I’m working for an organization that is constantly focusing on making a difference. That’s my mission, and that’s what I do.”