Aetna talks about closing CarePass, future mHealth plans


When Aetna announced it will shutter its CarePass mobile platform by the end of the year, industry experts were left wondering what caused the demise of CarePass and whether other insurers' mobile engagement initiatives could suffer a similar fate.

To gain exclusive insight into Aetna's decision to close its CarePass mobile platform and learn where the company plans to take its mobile health strategy in the future, FierceHealthPayer spoke with Michael Palmer, Aetna's chief innovation & digital officer.

Essentially, Aetna met its goal and recognized that CarePass was no longer serving a need. "We're trying to adopt the principles of a start-up company and move fast. There will be situations where we build things, they're relevant and spark innovation and then we move on to the next thing," Palmer said in an exclusive interview.

FierceHealthPayer: Why did Aetna decide to shut down the CarePass platform?

Michael Palmer: CarePass was a very strong and useful innovation for us. One of the main objectives was to get some of the personal, wearable technology connected and integrated better. We achieved that goal by sparking this innovation to connect all these technologies. But the reality was the engagement and the uptake of this technology was really minimal from our perspective. So we thought it was better to let these companies be integrated with each other, and we'll move on to other innovations that are really important to us.

FHP: Do you think your experience with CarePass will impact Aetna's mobile health decisions in the future? How so?

Palmer: We're trying to be fast innovators, getting things out to the market as quickly as we can. The things that work, we'll continue with. And the things that don't work or no one is using, we'll shut them down. While CarePass sparked a lot of innovation, it was a small part of our overall innovation pipeline. We have a lot more that we're going to do. The speed of innovation in the mobile space is really quick, and we are constantly asking consumers what they want from Aetna so that we can constantly reprioritize. Consumers have a lot of other priorities besides connecting their fitness apps.

FHP: Where does Aetna plan to take its mHealth initiative from here?

Palmer: We have iTriage, which is a tremendous asset and a huge investment area for us as we make Denver the center for our digital innovation. iTriage has been downloaded just shy of 13 million times. We have about 250,000 new downloads every month and about 50 million user sessions per year. So people use this tool a lot and we think this is a tremendous way to engage people. And it helps us drive more appropriate and efficient care. Interestingly, when people search for providers based on non-acute conditions, they select emergency departments (ED) about 40 percent less frequently. I'm not suggesting that's the design for it, but it helps people understand whether this condition is worthy of an ED visit or if it can wait for the morning.

We're taking our existing member payment estimator capabilities to the next level. Transparency is going to be particularly important when the market moves more to consumerism--people are buying more on the [health insurance] exchanges, paying a higher deductible and caring more about out-of-pocket expenses. So we have a bunch of things we're doing to provide transparency and help our customers have a sense of cost and quality so they can make the most of their healthcare dollars.

A second big focus area is telemedicine and going beyond the traditional definition. We've done a lot of research on this, and consumers want to have a video conference with their own doctors. We're experimenting to figure out if that's practical, especially in the context of an accountable care organization. We're trying to figure out how to reinvent telemedicine, because I think there's really an opportunity there for us to lower costs and increase convenience for consumers. We will be integrating telemedicine features within iTriage in the next six months or less.

FHP: Are you planning to add any other features to the iTriage app?

Palmer: We continue to have a product roadmap for iTriage that's quite extensive. So we'll continue to add features that our customers tell us are important. We have tremendous capabilities that we're building out in terms of appointment scheduling with facilities. It's also going to be integrated with our accountable care organizations. They need outreach tools for patients in their care, so iTriage will be one of the tools they can use. Another area is that some of our large plan sponsors want to give a customized tool with their logo to their employee population to help them navigate the healthcare system more easily. So we can have one of our customers' logos on it, as opposed to the iTriage logo, and they can use it to find doctors in their specific networks. I think iTriage will continue to play a material role in our future and we're also growing the team there pretty dramatically. We're using a start-up company mentality with agile processes building out mobile capabilities we have in the company.

We also have a strong interest in hassle-free payments. That may not end up in iTriage; it may end up in the Aetna mobile tools, but we have to figure out a way to make payments much simpler for patients. We have bought a couple of companies over the last few years that can help us do that. We'll leverage those companies and continue to innovate on top of those.

FHP: Do you have any other major mobile health initiatives planned?

Palmer: We're completely revamping the Aetna mobile applications as well to make the experience much easier and reduce the hassle factor for people trying to use the healthcare services provided by Aetna. We have a long list of many capabilities we want to add to the Aetna mobile apps, many of which are leapfrog capabilities that I can't talk about yet. But they revolve around making sure that consumers have a very simple experience, can find the right care at the right time, understand healthcare costs, know whether there are alternatives with lower costs and have an easy way to pay for care.

And finally, there's what we call condition-specific technology tools that we continue to innovate. Upstream we're worried about metabolic syndrome and we do a lot of work on predictive analytics, which we're going to incorporate into the Aetna digital tools so that people can get a predictive model to help them understand what their risk factors are, especially the modifiable risk factors over which they have control. Heart disease is an example--if you manage your cholesterol, diet, blood pressure, glucose levels, triglycerides and waist circumference, you can avoid it. If we can help our members understand when those factors are out of range and manage them better, we can help reduce their overall risk of getting heart disease while giving them a better life.- Dina (@HealthPayer)

Editor's Note: The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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