Health plans and Mobile Apps – Who has the secret sauce?

As an industry, health insurers have been relatively slow to add their mobile apps to the crowded lists of options on members’ smartphones. A 2015 analysis showed that 70 percent of health insurance companies around the globe had published just one or two apps each.

Health plans and Mobile Apps

But that’s not the whole story. A few firms – Aetna and Humana most prominent among them – have been active and innovative in their efforts to reach members and impact their health behavior via mobile devices, where many Americans spend a large amount of their time and attention.

The health plans that are leveraging mobile technology, either by developing apps themselves or partnering with tech firms that make them, are looking to do a variety of things:

  1. Give members easy access to the benefits management tools that exist on the plan’s website
  2. Support population health strategies by encouraging members to improve their lifestyles
  3. Market themselves by having the insurer brand in a place where members spend their time

The health plan products that were recently trending in the top 100 of health and fitness apps for Android and iPhone, according to the tracking site App Annie include:

  • iTriage – developed by a company bought by Aetna, this app offers access to medical information and has been downloaded more than 15 million times. It was recently joined by a stripped-down version known as iTraige Essentials, meant to serve as a testing ground for potentially interesting features for younger users, mobihealthnews reports.
  • Health4Me, UnitedHealthcare – oriented more toward claims and payment, the app allows UnitedHealthcare members to get estimates of what health care services may cost out of pocket and to pay balances online.
  • Kaiser Permanente Mobile App – members can get medical advice, schedule appointments, view prescriptions and order refills, see their medical records and test results, and send messages to doctors and member services.
  • Aetna Mobile – Aetna’s member services app lets users search for a doctor or urgent care center, view claims and coverage, see health record information, speak with a doctor via Teladoc, swap messages with the plan and access iTriage’s symptom checker.
  • Coach by Cigna – offers members personal fitness and health support including coaching and motivational videos.

Meanwhile, health plans are starting to use mobile technology as part of their broader digital strategy. For instance, Humana’s Transcend Insights is busy launching digital tools for both patients and providers, whose population health programs can be supported by viewing a patient’s clinical, claims and wellness data all in one place. The Transcend apps also include one for patient engagement; MyHealthLogix allows providers to assign patients a care plan and patients can use the smartphone app to track their progress, learn more about their condition, and manage their medication.

It’s not just the big insurers that are investing in mobile apps to support their population health strategies. As health systems increasingly get into the health plan business, they are trying out smartphone apps as a tool for managing the health of the patients they are responsible for. For instance, Healthcare Finance News reports that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s health plan offers a web portal and app that allow members to contact providers, view their health records, ask customer service questions, check their flexible spending account balances and use employer wellness resources.

While payers can offer members easy access to their plan and claims information on their smartphones, increasingly they are looking to the health improvement potential of mobile apps. This makes good sense given the fact that half of all smartphone owners use their device to access health information, and a fifth of them have installed at least one health-related app. As they pursue mobile strategies though, insurers will need to remember that behavior change requires more than throwing together a cute app. Notes consulting firm Protiviti in a 2014 report, “Simply moving self-service capabilities, especially those rarely used, from a website to a mobile platform will not keep members engaged.”

So it’s clearly not enough anymore to offer health plan members some basic access to their benefits and claims information. Payers of all kinds, whether traditional insurers or providers new to the game, need to think through both the member engagement and technical strategies with a partner that knows the territory.

Author: Digital Health Team
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