Are insurers harnessing the potential of smartphone apps?

After Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina launched an iPhone app that provides users with information for making informed healthcare decisions, FierceHealthPayer's Dina Overland started wondering whether healthcare insurers overall are taking full advantage of the ever-growing smartphone market. The BCBSNC free iPhone app, called HealthNAV, provides an urgent care finder, a prescription drug finder, customer service access and a health notes section. "When our customers choose an urgent care center instead of the ER for a non-life-threatening emergency, or opt for a generic drug over a brand name, it saves them money out of pocket and also helps rein in overall medical costs--which drive premiums," BCBSNC spokeswoman Michelle Douglas told Overland. Aetna consumer research found the most appealing health-related mobile applications help users save money and easily access health information. Aetna soon will launch Blackberry and iPhone apps that allow customers to use GPS to locate nearby physicians, receive turn-by-turn directions to the offices and download physicians' contact info into the phone's address book. UnitedHealthcare's apps also take advantage of a phone's GPS to help find nearby doctors. FierceHealthPayer

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