Aetna acquires iTriage parent to boost patient engagement

Health insurer Aetna is hoping to lock down a major competitive advantage with its recently announced purchase of Lakewood, Colo.-based Healthagen, the creator of the popular iTriage mobile app. Aetna's president Mark Bertolini disclosed the month-and-a-half-old deal at the insurer's annual investor conference late last week, according to TechCrunch.

"About a month and a half ago we bought a little company called iTriage...the fastest growing consumer application in healthcare today," Bertolini said. "We're going to begin to change the healthcare industry by giving people tools they can put in the palm of their hand." It will feature as a strong patient engagement function for the company's emerging accountable care organization, as well.

iTriage allows users to check symptoms, research diseases and procedures, and locate clinicians from their smartphones. It has been downloaded about 3 million times via iTunes, and installed/integrated into hundreds of hospital systems.

One big question is whether Aetna's purchase of iTriage will take the product completely off the market, and limit its availability to patients or hospitals outside of the Aetna network. Charles Saunders, Aetna's head of strategic diversification, nixed this idea during last week's conference, saying "iTriage is a market neutral application that is available to all payors, all consumers, all providers,"  MobiHealthNews reports. 

iTriage co-founder Peter Hudson tells the Denver Post that far from limiting the customer base, Aetna "wants us to continue to grow the company. They're providing the resources to grow it much faster than we would have otherwise."

And customers don't seem to have felt any squeeze from the acquisition. Just a day before Aetna announced its acquisition of Healthagen (but more than a month after the deal actually went through) Doctors Hospital of Sarasota [Fla.], launched a new ER notification feature called "I'm on my way" through the iTriage system.

Bertolini also told investors that Aetna will provide its iNexx healthcare app platform software development kit for free "for both the consumer platform and the provider platform to allow anyone to write apps to be sold on our platform," TechCrunch reports. The upshot: It looks like iTriage should be open to those who want to purchase, piggyback on, or integrate with it.

Aetna also may obtain some back-end value from the acquisition, being able to dig into data and trends submitted by iTriage users.

To learn more:
- check out TechCrunch's story
- learn more about the Doctor's Hospital ER feature