Interview: Humana talks mobile strategy

By Neil Versel

Neil PierceIn February, MyHumana Mobile, the iPhone and Android app for Humana health plan members, won the medical category in the first-ever Appy Awards at the 2011 Online Media, Marketing and Advertising (OMMA) Global Conference. Naturally, the Louisville, Ky.-based health insurer immediately set out to redesign both its web portal and the app in HTML5 to give both a common look and feel.

“Whenever you win an award, you have to step back and redesign something,” jokes Neil Pierce, executive business lead for e-communications at Humana, who serves as a point person for mobile products and services. That’s because, like so many companies, Humana is still learning when it comes to mobility. Plus, consumer demands tend to change so quickly in this emerging field.

In this case, the app is finally going to catch up to the web. Since the mobile app launched in March 2010, changes to the member portal have tended to happen on the web first. “We have always stayed 1-2 features ahead of our apps,” says Pierce, since it’s generally easier to add features to a website first, he explains.

Like so many other payers, Louisville, Ky.-based Humana is looking to customer service as an avenue for engaging members to take more control over their own health and ultimately reduce medical expenditures. Humana has been working for years to get members involved in self-service options, mostly on the web and through automated telephone channels, but in the last year and a half, mobile has become a centerpiece in those efforts.

Pierce cites figures from Morgan Stanley predicting that by 2014, more people worldwide will access the Internet from mobile devices than from desktop or laptop computers.

"We really started with mobile in '09," Pierce notes. Humana first deployed mobile technology in December 2009 with a mobile version of its member website and a text service so enrollees can update their information and check FSA and HSA balances, Pierce says. iPhone and Android apps followed four months later.

Since the app was introduced, there have been twice as many downloads of the iPhone version than the Android counterpart, but in April, Android OS took the top spot in terms of mobile web access to the portal, Pierce reports.

Last year, the company extended SMS to include alerts for payment exceptions and non-qualified expenses. Users get a follow-up text when their accounts are cleared for use, Pierce says.

But texting is for more than just for administrative functions. Humana has started sending SMS health alerts to certain members to satisfy Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) requirements set by the National Quality Forum. This might include reminders about flu shots or mammograms. A new alert is for colon exams, Pierce says.

SMS is less intrusive than voice, according to Pierce, but the same HIPAA precautions apply. “You have to be very generic in your text messages,” Pierce says. For example, a reminder needs to say something like, “take your pill,” rather than “take your Lipitor.”

Other recent additions to the app and web portal include the option to fax urgent care information and member ID cards directly to providers, as well as a prescription drug pricing feature with a pharmacy finder and generic substitution options. “You can also use your phone to register [for portal access],” Pierce says. “We do have on the roadmap a mobile feature that will support enrollment into a health plan through their phone,” he adds.

As of last fall, members can look up medical and pharmacy claims via the apps. This month, Humana is adding plan information to the app, something that’s already on the web.

“The provider directory is out there,” Pierce adds. Non-members and members alike can search for physicians, hospitals, labs, pharmacies and other services that are close to home with the help of their phone’s GPS.

There is no mobile version of Humana’s personal health record just yet because the insurer has been concentrating on more popular services, according to Pierce. Nor are their concrete plans just yet for an iPad version yet, since most of the buzz around tablets in healthcare has been on the provider side. “The provider community is going to adopt tablets sooner than the general public,” Pierce says.