Are Health Insurers Leading the Charge Into Mobile Web Apps?

Are health insurance companies jumping on the smartphone app bandwagon? That move could now be afoot in this age of high deductibles and chronic disease management. Although Americans aren’t rushing to use smartphone apps from their insurance companies yet, web and mobile seem to be setting the stage for consumer empowerment and patient wellness. There seems to be a range of mobile app options that health insurance companies are starting to offer. But, the general focus of the initial version of these apps is care provider directories, personalized cost-sharing information, and rewards for activities that maintain good health.

“Insurers need to think about the kind of experience they’re offering through the app, said Kim Jacobs, vice president of strategic business development, consumer innovation and commercial strategy & performance at UPMC Health Plan. UPMC Health Plan is insurance subsidiary of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Most people don’t wake up and think about how they can interact with their health plan, on a smartphone or in any other way”, Jacobs said. “The goal of a health plan app and web portal”, Jacobs continues, “should be to give people a health plan experience similar to “what they’ve become accustomed to in the digital retail world.”

Tele dermatology is an active area for smartphone apps within the overall healthcare world. Mobile devices and apps are especially helpful for conditions like acne. In the Philadelphia metro area, there are at least three mobile web apps for patients to use.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has estimated that over 500 million smartphone users have downloaded some type of healthcare mobile app. The FDA also estimates that, by 2018, over half of what will be 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will be using healthcare apps on the mobile web.

“Telemedicine is exploding,” said Jamie Altman, a dermatologist who is owner and president of Aesthetic Dermatology Associates in Media and Paoli and proprietor of “Dermatology lends itself perfectly to telemedicine, because we’re a very visual field. Acne can be readily diagnosed with photos and a patient history.”

“Compliance with treatment has often been a problem with acne patients”, said Altman, while pointing out “patients can see us in their pajamas at 9 a.m. in their living rooms.”

UPMC Health Plan’s smartphone app enables users to contact their care providers and pharmacies, view their health records, view their flex-savings account balance, and learn the details of their employer’s health and wellness program.

“Coverage for telemedicine is very spotty among insurance companies,” Altman said. “It’s something they are likely to cover in the future, but right now only a few companies do.”

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