Insurers deploy apps in quest for healthier pregnancies, maternity cost savings

Health insurance providers want to know early on when their members are pregnant and are turning to apps to gain deeper insight on potential health issues in a quest to spur healthier pregnancies, avoid potential newborn medical challenges and lower costs tied to childbirth and delivery.

Typically, insurance companies don't know until well into a subscriber's pregnancy about the pregnancy, given the timing of payment and coverage requests. "We might not know a woman is pregnant until three months after she's given birth," Leah O'Donnell, a managing director at Zaffre Investments, the venture capital arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, told Bloomberg News. The scenario puts providers in a reactive stance with little option to help its patients prior to birth events.

That's one reason Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is offering users Ovuline's mobile apps regarding fertility insight, pregnancy information and apps that provide exercise, diet and other maternal-related health knowledge.

Such apps aren't new by any means, though functionality is continually expanding. Some let users track data, such as menstrual cycles to in-uterine baby activity. Others, such as the free Text4baby software, alert users about various issues during pregnancy months. As FierceMobileHealthcare has reported, texting is proving to have a beneficial impact on expectant mothers in the military, as it helps them avoid missed appointments, reminds them of healthy nutrition habits and provides guidance for dealing with childcare questions and concerns. A recent study on Text4baby revealed the tool improves health attitudes and beliefs and researchers hope to continue investigating its effects on behavior. 

Recent research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that few female reproductive health tracking apps have been developed, assessed or come recommended by health experts, with one-third of apps lacking consumer review. "The biggest problem seems to be the ability to distinguish high-quality [accurate] apps from the lower quality apps that provide misinformation, such as incorrect predictions e.g.. for ovulation," researcher Michelle Moglia told FierceMobileHealthcare.

What's more, the potential harm of unvetted apps requires attention, according to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "There are tons and tons of apps and very little in the way of guidance for physicians or consumers on how to separate the wheat from the chaff," Aaron S. Kesselheim, M.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told JAMA.

In regard to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts' effort, users opt-in to use the Ovuline apps, which collect about 400 data points that are not shared with the provider. The data is used to create a custom interaction with the user dependent on issues in play and provider solutions and tools that may help.

"We're basically able to do massive triage on millions of people at the same time," Ovuline Chief Executive Officer Paris Wallace told Bloomberg.

For more information:
- read the Bloomberg report