Aetna launching new Apple Watch app to gather health data, reward healthy behavior

Insurance giant Aetna, CVS Health and Apple have collaborated on the design of a new app for the Apple Watch that will integrate wearers’ health history and track their daily activity levels to provide personalized fitness and wellness goals.

Aetna members who enroll in the program will also be able to earn rewards for healthy behavior, such as the ability to earn their Apple Watch, according to Aetna in an announcement released on Tuesday.

The new app, called Attain, builds on a three-year collaboration between Aetna and Apple and is expected to be available in the Apple app store later this spring.

The companies emphasized that the new app offers users a personalized experience, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, by combining Apple Watch activity tracking data with users' health history, from Aetna claims data, and then nudging users to take certain actions, such as getting an annual flu shot or taking their medication on time.

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According to Aetna, users who join Attain will have the option to share their Attain program data and health history with Apple. The Apple Watch currently measures users’ steps, heart rate and heart rhythm, among other metrics. The program will use analytics and machine learning to improve the features in the Attain app, offering more personalized recommendations designed to give greater context and decrease barriers to healthcare, according to Aetna.

Based on users’ health data, the app will provide participants with personalized daily and weekly activity goals, based on their age, sex and weight. The definition of activity will not be restricted to steps taken and includes other activities measured by the Apple Watch, such as swimming and yoga, the companies said.

The app will also offer weekly challenges in which participants earn points for taking actions that improve their overall health and well-being, such as getting more sleep, increasing mindfulness and improving nutrition.

In addition, based on the Aetna member’s health history and their Apple Watch sensor data, the Attain app will provide health recommendations based on clinical guidelines. At launch, these nudges will include reminders to get vaccinations, notifications to refill medication prescriptions when they’re scheduled to run out, suggestions to visit a primary care physician if they have not had a recent office visit, and information about the availability of lower-cost options for scheduled lab tests and imaging such as MRI scans, according to an Aetna press release.

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The companies also designed the app with user privacy and data security in mind, they said. The health data is encrypted on the device, in transit, and on Aetna and Apple’s servers. Aetna and Apple also said information from this program will not be used for underwriting, premium or coverage decisions.

As CNBC reported, Apple has made clear that healthcare is a key area of future growth. Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC’s Jim Cramer "I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' it will be about health."

Insurance giant UnitedHealthcare has also incorporated the Apple Watch into its Motion wellness program, which enables some members to receive a new Apple Watch and pay the insurer back simply by walking. Apple is also in talks with three private Medicare Advantage plans to subsidize the cost of the device for seniors to use to help track their health.

Digital health applications, such as smartphone apps and wearables, are a booming market, but recent studies have called into question whether these applications provide any real evidence of their clinical effectiveness. While companies do regularly perform studies on their apps, these studies rarely use randomized controlled trials and generally focus on healthier individuals, according to a Health Affairs study. A company may be able to prove, for example, that an activity tracker can accurately count steps. But that's a far cry from proving it can help a patient struggling with their weight, the study authors said.

At the get-go, Aetna told CNBC that 250,000 to 300,000 slots will be available, assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. But as of the spring, employers that use Aetna as their health plan will have the option to buy additional slots for their employees. Eventually, Aetna hopes to scale out the Attain program to all its members, which total approximately 22.1 million, according to CNBC.

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“We’re designing Attain to be personalized and clinically relevant to where each individual is in their health journey. This is an ambitious challenge, and we will adapt and improve over time to create the best experience for our members," Alan Lotvin, M.D., executive vice president of transformation for CVS Health, said in a prepared statement.