Aetna's shuttering of CarePass: Why the sky's not falling for mHealth, yet

The news that Aetna will shutter its CarePass mHealth app platform by year's end is startling, surprising and likely a bit worrisome to payers and others developing similar systems and banking on mobile apps to foster healthcare cost savings while improving patient services.

The 14-month-old service let users track health apps from a centralized web hub and had big device and app maker partner support, including FitBit. It was a fully integrated platform for managing fitness and for establishing health and wellness goals. It enjoyed credible early success, with more than 100 million downloads early into the launch.

Aetna hasn't stated the primary reason for closing down the service, but says it will salvage some content for other mobile efforts such as its iTriage app. While a spokesperson noted the payer gained "valuable experience" in areas such as using open APIs for health data and best practices in collaborating with healthcare app makers, Aetna shied from specifics in terms of lessons learned or whether it will revisit the platform effort in the future.

To that end, it's hard to determine if this is a budgetary decision or a resource allocation-driven strategy. Return-on-investment is a critical business element in any provider service--mobile or otherwise. If you can't prove something is helping to keep costs down or improving outcomes, then why continue to fund it?

What the CarePass scenario may reflect is a new user mobile app trend: Consumers may just be sick of consuming apps, whether for fitness and healthcare related or gaming fun.

A new ComScore study reveals while consumers are using mobile apps more than PC-based apps, they're using a small set of apps on a consistent basis and not downloading anything new.

In fact, the report, "The U.S. Mobile App Report," claims most mobile device users, 65 percent, aren't downloading any apps on a monthly basis yet more than half of smartphone users tap their current apps every day. Just about one-third are downloading one or more apps per month.

The reasons, states the report, can range from fatigue with apps, to ease of use to time demands. It could be consumers don't want to hunt and and peck crowded app stores for something they need or want to try.

My take: The end of CarePass does not reflect the end of mobile efforts in healthcare. Like any new burgeoning technology, early adopters and builders often hit big hurdles and obstacles that can't be overcome until solutions are discovered by the next wave of entrepreneurs. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)

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