UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurer in the U.S., says the need to reduce healthcare costs and improve efficiencies has driven the company into adopting a digital health strategy.
In an interview with Business Insider, UnitedHealthcare Chief Executive Officer, Steve Nelson, described the health system as “confusing, it’s difficult to navigate, and it’s too expensive.”
At the annual technology convention, CES 2018 in Las Vegas earlier this year, UnitedHealthcare unveiled some of its digital innovations that it hopes will simplify access to healthcare.
Among some of the new innovations unveiled are UnitedHealthcare Motion, the UnitedHealthcare Healthy Pregnancy mobile app, virtual visits and health and well-being solution, Rally.
Rally includes online and mobile tools that subscribers can use to compare insurance benefit options, search for health care providers, and participate in employer wellness programs.
In July, David Wichmann, UnitedHealth Group’s chief executive officer, said about 18 million people with UnitedHealthcare benefits were now registered with Rally.
“UnitedHealthcare also announced a collaboration with DexCom, Inc., to launch an individualized glucose management program driven by wearable technology to help people with Type 2 diabetes manage their condition in real-time,” the company said.
UnitedHealthcare also has another digital platform called PreCheck MyScript, a digital program and mobile app for doctors to write and renew prescriptions faster.
PreCheck MyScript is accessed through Link, UnitedHealthcare’s physician health portal, and enables doctors to run a pharmacy trial claim before prescribing a medication for patients with UnitedHealthCare plans.
Nelson said such innovations showed that UnitedHealthcare was “not stuck to the traditional ways, and so partnering with industries that might be further along in the consumer mindset perhaps can bring in new thinking — we’re bringing talent into our organization from industries outside of healthcare.”
For ease of enrollment, UnitedHealthcare has adopted digital onboarding. Digital onboarding allows employers with between 101 and 3,000 employees to enroll in services online, where clients can select an appropriate health plan based on their personal health and financial preferences.
“The step-by-step process helps make plan enrollment simple and straightforward, with an online health survey that enables people to identify and select relevant clinical, wellness or financial programs available to them, such as behavioral health, weight loss, pregnancy support, spending accounts, and others,” UnitedHealthcare said.
UnitedHealthcare also introduced Apple Pay for its clients with Optum Bank health savings accounts (HSA), which allows for a secure and private way to pay for medical services.
The company now also provides video explanation of benefits, which are brief, personalized claims videos provide a step-by-step breakdown that show how each claim was processed and how much is owed, which are available on mobile devices and desktop computers.
Richard Migliori, UnitedHealth Group’s managing director and chief medical officer, said the move to digital health was in response to customers “asking for and expecting customized, connected digital health resources that help make access to care easier and more convenient.”
He said UnitedHealthcare invests more than $3.2 billion annually in data, technology, and innovation to help design a health system that is more personalized, intuitive, and efficient.
The company said this is meant to make consumers “take a more active role in their health. By using technology to help encourage people to pursue healthy behaviors, and to more easily navigate the health system, our goal is to advance better care management today and set the foundation for better health outcomes in the future.”
Among the trends that UnitedHealthcare is watching are mobile payments, wearable sensors, remote medical monitoring and treatment, artificial intelligence, and blockchain.
The desire to have more savings could be behind UnitedHealthcare’s decision to invest in digital health, as it is estimated that digital health solutions could save the U.S. healthcare system up to $230 billion over five years.
The Digital Commerce 360 website said Wichmann did not release any specific financial metrics on its digital healthcare programs, when he spoke to analysts earlier this year, but said UnitedHealth will continue to invest in digital health and consumer-focused initiatives.
It is estimated that the global connected digital health market was worth $155.5bn in 2017.
A report by IQVIA says the impact of digital health on patient care is accelerating with the increasing adoption of mobile health apps and wearable sensors, with health-related mobile applications available to consumers now surpassing 318,000 — nearly double the number available just two years ago.
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