In a busy year for the healthcare industry, payers tried to move beyond the technical glitches and court rulings associated with the Affordable Care Act and focus instead on the ACA's aim to make healthcare more accessible and personal.
To play into this idea of the consumerization of healthcare, payers have been busy exploring mobile applications that keep their members healthy and temper rising healthcare costs.
Of course, this has been no walk in the park--consumers have been slow to adopt insurers' mobile apps, while healthcare still hasn't been able to effectively harness data in a way to make it useful.
Amid certain ups and downs, there have been a few bright spots over the past year. Listed below are five insurers who took a few steps forward in 2014--with some missteps along the way--to improve the health of their members through mobile technology.
When Aetna launched CarePass last year, hopes were high--the mobile platform was a unique approach in an industry that continues to adopt digital transformation. Aetna received much support and collaboration from mobile companies for CarePass, but it was not enough. The insurer announced over the summer that it will shut down both the mobile and web experiences of CarePass.
So what's on the horizon for Aetna? The insurer is focusing on its iTriage app, which has been downloaded about 13 million times, Aetna's Chief Innovation & Digital Officer Michael Palmer told FierceHealthPayer in a previous interview. The app is a tremendous way to engage people, and helps the insurer drive more appropriate and efficient care, noted Palmer.
In October, Cigna made headlines by launching a new digital health coaching program that offers a "digital ecosystem" of mobile tools, social media engagement, gamification and Web-based incentives to help its members meet their goals.
Cigna Health Matters combines clinical insights, health coaches, digital tools measurement and reward engines to ensure members get and stay on the right and healthy path.
"We saw the need for a solution that ties together the personal touch of health coaches and the high-tech touch of gamification, health apps and web-based incentives," Eric Herbeck, Cigna's vice president of product development and consumer health engagement, told FierceHealthPayer.
Humana became the first major insurer to track steps, calorie and heart rate data in Health, the Apple iPhone app, Forbes reported in October.
The insurer saw promise in a collaboration with Apple for many reasons. For starters, more than 60 percent of its consumers have iPhones. Second, the HealthKit developer interface collects data from a host of different sources. These data sources are the components within the underlying program for which HumanaVitality members earn points, Kristine Mullen, Humana employer group segment vice president, told FierceHealthPayer.
This partnership also speaks volumes to members' expectations of transparency, Mullen added. "Consumers expect to receive information in a way that will enable them to take accountability and feel informed and confident in their choices. This trend, we believe, is becoming the new standard expectation."
Fast-growing Oscar Health made headlines earlier this month when the New York-based insurer announced a new fitness perk it plans to offer members: Starting Jan. 1, 2015, each member will receive a free Misfit Flash to help measure activity.
The insurer will also pay members to use the wearable device. In the end, it's a win-win situation: Because active, health members cost less than non-active ones, Oscar potentially can see financial rewards as well, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.
"Oscar believes that insurance should not only assist members to maintain their health but improve it" Cat Cuppernull, a spokeswoman for Oscar, told FierceHealthPayer. "With that in mind, the idea to eventually add a component that actively encouraged healthy habits has been in the works for a while."
Health Care Service Corporation
The insurer launched its new wellness app, Centered, this past fall. HCSC developed the app based on an internal study that found that abbreviated, mindful meditation exercises significantly reduce stress levels and increase a participant's ability to focus attention on recent experiences in a clear and non-reactive manner, Patrick Feeney, director of mobile and emerging technology, told FierceHealthPayer.
HCSC kept in mind the importance of well-being when designing the app. Centered displays a daily count of calories burned, miles walked and time spent being active every day, Mobihealthnews reported. The app also sends members tips on how to have a successful meditation session.
All in all, Centered is "committed to providing our members with health and well-being tools and resources that empower them to better manage their health," Feeney added.