Health IT Pulse

Jul 18 2013   10:58AM GMT

Aetna launches CarePass mHealth app while pulling out of Calif. HIX

Don Fluckinger Profile: Don Fluckinger

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Aetna
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health insurance
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mHealth
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PHRs and patient engagement

Last month, Aetna Inc. launched CarePass, a smartphone mHealth app that aggregates and dashboards data from many popular personal health and fitness apps such as FitBit, Jawbone, Lose It! and RunKeeper. The insurer’s Vice President and CarePass lead Martha Wofford told SearchHealthIT that services built on the Aetna-acquired iTriage platform will integrate physician finder and appointment booking services into CarePass soon, leveraging smartphone location services.

CarePass sets out to accomplish something on the consumer health data side that seems almost impossible on the hospital and health system side — normalize data across vendors and make all our apps interoperable. It’s available to any patient, not just Aetna policyholders. It comes with Android and iOS native apps, and mobile browser-optimized versions for other smartphone operating systems.

The app adds value to the Aetna brand, Wofford said. Eventually, she hopes, CarePass will bring more customers to the company as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) adds tens of millions of newly insured U.S. patients to the customer pool.

“It’s important to us that we become consumer-preferred,” Wofford said. “As consumers are making more and more decisions around their healthcare [and are paying more out of pocket], we see them getting a lot more engaged.”

Around the same time CarePass launched, however, Aetna pulled out of the ACA-mandated health insurance exchange in California. The state exchanges amount to marketplaces where individuals not covered by their employer’s health insurance can compare and purchase policies. Soon after Aetna withdrew its planned offerings, it announced it would pull out of individual coverage in California altogether, a decision drawing the ire of the state insurance commissioner.

So what’s the use of increasing brand awareness while shrinking one’s pool of potential customers in the most populous U.S. state? Perhaps Aetna’s strategy doesn’t reflect unwillingness to sell to individuals, but shows that the ACA-mandated insurance exchanges represent an idea unready for prime time. While the ACA mandates an Oct. 1 deadline for them to go live, more than one observer believes that is an unrealistic deadline when factoring in the IT support for the exchanges — 34 of which will be set up by the federal government — as well as Internal Revenue Service infrastructure needed to verify taxpayers have signed up for health insurance and are not subject to tax penalties.

Whatever the various business strategies behind Aetna’s CarePass and insurance exchange participation, one thing’s for sure: The mHealth app is an ambitious technical undertaking, especially for an insurer trying to build consumer trust in a season where the National Security Agency, Google and cellphone providers are showing consumers how much they can learn about an individual with just a few simple bits of customer metadata.

It will be interesting to see just how far Aetna goes with what looks like one of the more well-conceived apps that mixes personal health data, medication management and, for Aetna customers, clinical data piped through its personal health record (PHR) system. The initiative not only took creative design and development, it also took HIPAA-grade security measures for the clinical piece of its services and a lot of connectors to different vendors’ practice-management systems to be able to set up appointments.

If Aetna can win consumers’ trust and if it somehow can fund what has to be some serious IT support by drawing in new policyholders — despite a reticence toward ACA-created exchanges — the app could turn out to be the most useful, popular mHealth implementation to date. But those are a couple big “ifs.”

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