Anthem, UnitedHealth, Humana, and Oscar Take Giant Steps To Connect Docs and Patients via Technology

This, despite evidence that patients don’t often utilize connectivity tools or that costs rise when they do.

UnitedHealth calls its app Recover and it tells patients preparing for surgery where to go for various preparatory services (such as imaging) and what those services will cost. Humana, working with the health care innovation company Doctor on Demand, has launched a program called On Hand, which provides virtual primary care to beneficiaries. Oscar Insurance recently tested a system through which it contacted women whose birth control prescriptions were about to lapse to let them know that they could renew the prescription via a virtual visit.

But Anthem got the most play in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article about how insurers are ramping up their technological efforts to make health care more accessible. Because Anthem’s new app, called CareSpree, allows people to schedule and pay for medical visits via smartphone. Notice that’s “people” and not Anthem beneficiaries alone. “Anthem’s plan to make an app available to people who don’t have its coverage is unusual, because most insurers’ digital tools are aimed at their own customers,” the WSJ reports. Anthem plans to pilot CareSpree in Indiana starting the last week of July and then later roll it out across 14 other states.

While the technology might be new (or, at least, an improvement on what exists) the hope behind it isn’t. As the WSJ points out, insurers and employers have been trying to remotely connect patients and doctors for years, whether via computer, video, or smartphone. The results have been mixed so far, with some studies even indicating that tech services might actually increase costs.

Nevertheless, “insurers hope to save money by using the digital services to promptly detect and respond to health problems that can result in costly emergency-room visits,” the WSJ reports. “They also want to use digital tools to steer members toward lower-cost care, including their preferred specialists, pharmacies and imaging centers. That would short-circuit hospital systems’ ability to refer patients to their own, often costlier offerings.”