Payers push for patient engagement through games, mobile apps

Innovative health insurers are turning to consumer technology to encourage members to lead healthier lifestyles and thus improve margins.

A new report from Chilmark Research outlines 40 programs that use consumer technology such as social media, games and mobile apps to draw consumers to use health, wellness and disease-management programs.

Too often in past efforts, the insurers themselves were not fully committed to the efforts, resulting in half-baked projects. That's changing, Chilmark analyst John Moore says in a blog post.

"Numerous market forces are now pressing down upon payers, and payers are increasingly coming to the realization that they need to deploy member engagement solutions that work," Moore says. "Payers are now going to where consumers already are seeking to engage their members via a variety of consumer-based technologies."

The passage of the Affordable Care Act, adding coverage for 30 million Americans, and the industry shift from fee-for-service to outcomes-based reimbursement are two of the forces named in Chilmark's announcement.

Efforts underway so far, though, are still in their infancy, and a majority of insurers remain on the sidelines. Chilmark plans to update its report periodically to outline programs that work and those that don't.

The report finds that innovative health insurers increasingly are either building their own consumer-engagement applications or collaborating with technology developers to create such tools. A few payers, it says, have gone so far as to acquire software companies.

A blog post by Moore from June predicted this strategy would grow in care-coordinating models to encourage members to manage their own health and also as pure marketing ploys to generate buzz.

Humana, among those companies Chilmark noted for beginning with games for children in 2008, was spotlighted recently for two app games that promote wellness--one based on the video game Tetris, and another that motivates users to walk around to play.

Meanwhile, according to a recent article in the New York Times, two unnamed insurance companies have agreed to pay the bill--roughly $100--for patients who use WellDoc's DiabetesManager at the request of their doctors. The tool can be operated using a smartphone app, a standard cell phone or a desktop computer.

A report from the Digital Innovation in Healthcare Working Group urged harnessing the potential of technology to improve healthcare overall. As with every industry, healthcare is still feeling its way along in the adoption of consumer technologies such as social media, as evidenced by a recent Twitter war of words between Aetna's CEO and a cancer patient.

To learn more:
- find the report
- here's John Moore's blog post
- read Chilmark's announcement
- check out Moore's previous post