Aetna launches new consumer wellness program with Apple Watch

By Heather Mack
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Beginning this fall, Aetna will combine Apple’s consumer tech offerings with its analytics-based wellness and care management programs by integrating several iOS-exclusive health initiatives. First off, the company will make the Apple Watch available to some of its large employers and individual members during open enrollment season, and will be subsidizing part of the cost.

Aetna will also be providing, free of charge, Apple Watches to its own nearly 50,000 employees who will participate in the company’s wellness reimbursement program, demonstrating the gradual if not widespread shift of payers subsidizing consumer digital health offerings, such as video visits or even cell phones.

“We are incredibly excited to use iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch to create simple, intuitive, and personalized technology solutions that will transform the health and wellness experience for our members,” Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini said in a statement. “This is only the beginning – we look forward to using these tools to improve health outcomes and help more people achieve more healthy days.”

Aetna’s iOS-exclusive health apps will aim to simplify the healthcare process through a number of features, including medication reminders; integration with Apple Wallet to allow consumers to check their deductible and pay a bill; personalized health plan onboarding; messaging and decision support; and guidance for consumers through health events like a new diagnosis.

Aetna has steadily been ramping up its digital health offerings, but they haven’t always been successful. In 2014, it shut down its CarePass Health data platform, owing to consumers’ aversion to sharing data with their insurance carrier and, notably, its fear of competition from Apple and Google. Last year, when Aetna acquired rival Humana for $36 billion, it prompted us to raise questions as to when it would return its efforts to digital-based preventative health and wellness strategies. The Apple announcement answers that question.

Of course, Aetna's biggest digital health footprint is its iTriage app, which the company acquired in 2011. iTriage has evolved from just a symptom navigator, physician and hospital finder app to include price transparency tools, health education and literacy tools, prescription management tools, and -- soon -- maybe even video visits with physicians. And other Aetna apps do even more: Aetna Mobile has many of iTriage's features, plus it allows Aetna members to access information about their insurance, and Aetna's Resources for Living app helps users to manage stress and anxiety, moderate work-life balance, and track their moods. 

This isn’t the first time Aetna’s integrated Apple products into its consumer offerings. In 2012, the health insurance company equipped New York City area dentists with iPads to help them educate their patients about tobacco use in an effort to curb smoking.

“We are thrilled that Aetna will be helping their members and employees take greater control of their health using Apple Watch,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “Aetna’s new initiatives will be a powerful force toward creating better customer experiences in health care, and we look forward to working with Aetna to make them successful.”