3 Insurers Jumping on the Smartphone Health Care Revolution

Can new mobile fitness apps from Aetna, Cigna, and UnitedHealth help improve the health of their customers and reduce costs at the same time?

Jun 6, 2014 at 6:00PM

Insurers such as Aetna (NYSE:AET), Cigna (NYSE:CI), and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) usually aren't mentioned in the same breath as tech titans like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF). However, that could soon change as insurers rely more on mobile fitness apps to save money and help patients live healthier lives.

The number of smartphone users in America is projected to rise from 164 million this year to 220 million by 2018, according to research firm eMarketer. Research firm Research2Guidance estimates that the global market for mobile fitness apps will grow to $26 billion by 2017 -- representing 61% compound annual growth from 2013. Meanwhile, rising readmissions in U.S. hospitals have forced the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, part of the Affordable Care Act, to raise its penalty for excess readmissions from 1% to 2% in 2014.

When we consider those three facts, it makes plenty of sense for insurers to launch mobile apps to connect to their customers.

Aetna's CarePass
Aetna's CarePass, released last year, is an ambitious attempt to unify data from various fitness apps, wearable devices, and personal health records, or PHRs, into a single app. In that sense, it's similar to the iOS 8 Health app that Apple recently unveiled at its 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference.

Popular fitness products from Jawbone, Fitbit, Withings, MapMyFitness, BodyMedia, and Aetna itself are all compatible with CarePass. Users simply need to authorize CarePass to access the app to add the information to CarePass' main dashboard. CarePass can set up a personalized fitness profile based on that accumulated information, allowing users to set up personal goals, for example: fitting into a new pair of jeans.

Image

CarePass. Source: iTunes.

Aetna notably designed CarePass to reach the widest audience possible, by launching it on both iOS and Android and opening it to non-Aetna members. That's because CarePass is also a promotional tool that highlights Aetna's strengths over its competitors with a built-in health plan comparison app. It also helps users retain personal health data if they switch plans.

Cigna and Samsung's Coach
Cigna has taken a more conservative approach to personal health by partnering with Samsung. In May, the two companies launched their first joint product, a Samsung S Health app feature called Coach by Cigna. Since Samsung only controls 28% of the U.S. smartphone market (compared to Apple's 41%), the app will reach a much smaller audience than Aetna's CarePass.

Coach by Cigna works best when paired with one of Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatches, but health data can also be entered manually into the smartphone. Coach then uses that information to create a customized fitness program for its users, which then encourages them with motivational and informational messages regarding exercise routines, weight management, sleep patterns, stress management, and nutrition.

Image

Samsung's S Health. Source: Samsung.

Coach's system "gamifies" the entire experience through achievable missions with an overall "lifestyle score" that unlocks achievement badges. Unlike Aetna or Apple's "app-unifying apps," Coach by Cigna only integrates with a handful of other apps and does not connect to PHRs or medical professionals. 

Cigna also offers a spartan members-only app for iOS and Android, myCigna, which tracks accounts, claims, ID cards, and drug costs.

UnitedHealth Group's Health4Me and texting services
UnitedHealth Group offers the Health4Me app for iOS and Android. Health4Me is restricted to UnitedHealth members who register for mobile services online. The app gives users quick access to health information of family members, as well as enabling them to find physicians nearby or speak directly with an experienced nurse for medical questions.

In terms of personal health management, UnitedHealth is taking a different approach via text messages. In mid-May, the company started offering two new text messaging services, Txt4Health and Text4Kids, to members enrolled in its Medicaid plans in three counties in Pennsylvania. The services, developed by Voxiva, send out personalized health text messages based on the user's stored health profile, such as text reminders to take medication, exercise, eat healthy foods, and attend doctor's appointments.

The Foolish takeaway
It's easy to see why insurers are releasing more mobile apps these days -- smartphone use is soaring, fitness apps are more popular than ever, and costly hospital readmissions are rising. Promoting better health habits benefits both patients and insurers, which will need to make fewer payments to cover preventable hospital visits.

The landscape for these mobile apps might change soon -- especially since Apple's Health app could become the central hub for fitness apps that Aetna's CarePass wants to be -- but they are still noteworthy ways to keep patients healthy and constantly connected to their insurers.

Of course, everyone already knows about the smartphone revolution. What about the revolution in wearables?
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early-in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!

 

Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers