Microsoft, TracFone give smartphones to 100 Medicaid beneficiaries with diabetes

By Jonah Comstock
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Nokia Lumia Windows Phone MicrosoftMicrosoft is launching a major mobile health pilot along with mobile service provider TracFone Wireless and the Health Choice Network, a Miami-based company that manages a 17-state health IT network for community health centers. In the pilot, 100 Medicaid patients with Type 1 and 2 diabetes will be equipped with smartphones containing both health management tools and traditional smartphone features. Forbes' Dan Munro first reported the story this morning.

The Windows Phones, Nokia Lumia 520 handsets, will have Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft HealthVault, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM pre-installed. But they won't just be normal consumer phones -- they will have enterprise-level security features, allowing patients to communicate with their doctors via email and messaging while staying HIPAA compliant, as well as to use calendar and appointment reminder functions securely. The data and service will be prepaid by TracFone, and HCN will develop additional applications specific to diabetes care. Specifically the HCN applications will "help participants provide consent, deliver and receive reminders, ensure treatment plan understanding, and aid in disease self-tracking for blood sugar levels and other vital health information," according to a release from Microsoft. 

“For several years, our patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes have benefited from access to their personal health record in HealthVault,” Kevin Kearns, president and CEO of HCN said in a statement. “We are excited to include a mobile smartphone to extend the platform for patient engagement and enhance our ability to provide, connect and utilize the tools to drive better outcomes. This is particularly timely as we focus on the tremendous growth in the Medicaid and individual market, whose enrollees traditionally are at higher risk for chronic disease and benefit most from patient engagement.”

TracFone Wireless is a major no-contract wireless service provider. The company partnered with Voxiva last year to launch SafeLink Health Solutions, an offshoot of the federal Lifeline mobile phone service for Medicaid members. SafeLink Health equips members with a free mobile phone, free monthly service with 250 calling minutes and unlimited minutes to designated member services numbers. The program also includes free enrollment to Voxiva’s text message-based health services and unlimited text messaging. It currently has 500,000 enrollees.

Participants in the pilot will even have access to Cortana, Microsoft's upcoming answer to Apple's Siri. "For example," the company writes in its press release, "Cortana can remind patients to fill a prescription the next time it senses that they are near the pharmacy, or it can remind them to talk to a doctor about a specific concern the next time a doctor’s call or email is received."

While doctors, at least in the United States, tend to prefer Apple products for their work, Microsoft has always pitched its Windows phones and Surface tablet line as more robust enterprise devices for healthcare. But now that Apple has partnered with IBM for a major push into enterprise, even that territory is looking endangered. This pilot, like the major UPMC deployment of Surface tablets earlier this summer, could be a way for Microsoft to re-assert itself in the healthcare enterprise field. If the pilot produces good results, it could push providers toward Windows phones and Surface tablets to launch similar initiatives of their own.