Aetna's fitness app Passage uses Instagram, Google Maps

By Jonah Comstock

passageAt the mHealth Summit in December, when Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini announced a March 2013 launch of the mobile version of Aetna's CarePass platform, he also previewed a fitness app called Passage: A Virtual Journey. The free app is available to everyone, not just Aetna members.

"Instead of staring at a book while you're on your elliptical or stairclimber, what we have is an opportunity to turn your fitness into a journey, wherever you want to go," he said at the time. "It engages the consumer in thinking about places they want to go, sets goals, and allows them to make the journey personal and complete, bringing the world to them."

Earlier this week, the app launched for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iOS AppStore. The app uses the Apple device's built-in accelerometers as a pedometer to track the users' steps whenever the app is open and running. It translates those steps to a virtual display of another location, shown on the screen in a 360 degree view. The app starts out with a course through Paris, which the user must complete in order to unlock subsequent locations.

As the user virtually moves through the city, the app displays Instagram photos from their virtual location, tourist facts, and "hidden gem" restaurants, as well as allowing users to see their virtual location on a Google map and displaying the local time and weather.

The app requires the user to sign on to Aetna's CarePass portal, a fitness hub initiative that has been a big part of Aetna's strategy recently. CarePass will allow a range of health and fitness apps, including big ticket acquisition iTriage, to send information freely to one another on a user's phone, keeping them all securely behind a CarePass login. The system has an open API, which the company hopes will entice third-party apps to connect to CarePass.

Many apps use gamification to turn exercising into something more -- the popular "Zombies, Run!" app uses virtual zombies to motivate runners, and MeYou Health's "Monumental" takes an approach similar to Passage, translating a user's stairclimbing into climbs of mountains and monuments around the world. UnitedHealth, another payer, has made "OptumizeMe," an app that uses social features and challenges to promote movement, available for several years.

While not a radically different concept, Aetna's new Passage app is just one more gamified piece in the company's effort to make a CarePass a one-stop shop mobile health interface, for anyone to download.