Healthfirst accelerates launch of its member app due to COVID-19

As COVID-19 led to significant increases in the demand for digital health, New York-based insurer Healthfirst accelerated the launch of its new app for its 1.5 million members.

Healthfirst’s team aimed to ensure that the most critical inclusions to assist members during the pandemic were prioritized during the launch, such as telemedicine and direction to community resources, said G.T. Sweeney, the nonprofit insurer’s chief information officer.

For example, as unemployment rose in New York, demand increased in tandem for access to resources to address food insecurity, Sweeney told Fierce Healthcare. In partnership with digital health company NowPow, Healthfirst launched a series of pop-up food distribution locations and then distributed the details through the app, Sweeney said.

The app also offers other resources to help members navigate their social and financial needs as the pandemic wears on, he said.

“It’s hard to think about going in for preventative procedures if you’re struggling to pay rent,” Sweeney said.

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Nearly 1 million of Healthfirst’s members are covered solely by Medicaid, making these resources even more critical, Sweeney said. He said the team aimed to build the most comprehensive app available for Medicaid enrollees.

Telehealth visits provided by Teladoc are also embedded directly in the app so members do not have to navigate away to secure a visit, Sweeney said. As Healthfirst’s operating health systems reopen for elective procedures, the digital team is adapting to that transition as well, he said.

“We’re providing different ways to see your doctor, either in-office or telemedicine,” he said.

While the team prioritized the features most critical under COVID-19 for the initial launch, they plan to continue iterating on the app with further additions. Online bill pay, for example, is a feature that is in the works now, allowing members to pay their premiums in the app.

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Sweeney and his team are also working release the app in additional languages, including Spanish and Mandarin.

The Healthfirst NY Mobile App is available on Apple iOS and is in development for Android, with plans to launch the app for Android devices by the end of the year.