Payers stop launching apps, start partnering with biometric device companies

By Brian Dolan
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According to a recent report from Chilmark Research, healthcare insurance companies -- or payers -- are increasingly partnering with biometric device companies. The firm calls to biometric activity tracking as the "latest fad" in payer adoption of consumer technology. Chilmark also noted a decline in the number of smartphone app launches from health plans, which launched more apps in 2012 than in 2013.

"Payers have drastically pulled back from their flurry of experimentation in 2012, and are now focusing their efforts into fewer, more precise areas where they believe market traction awaits," the researchers wrote. "In addition, the rush to create mobile app versions of member service portals has slowed, as have health and wellness app launches."

As Chilmark's chart below makes clear, the number of payer app launches peaked in 2012. Assuming most of these apps are still live and health plans are continuing to support and iterate on them, describing a lack of mobile launches as pulling back might be a bit strong. The "cumulative" trend line in the chart below indicates perhaps a five or six payer-branded apps (at most) have been pulled from the AppStore in the past year.

Chilmark Research: Benchmark Report 2013: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Tech – Payers Continue their Pursuit of the Digital Consumer Chilmark Research: Benchmark Report 2013: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Tech – Payers Continue their Pursuit of the Digital Consumer

"While payers may have pulled back from rapid experimentation along certain lines, this does not mean that they have given up on the digital consumer," the firm writes. "To the contrary, we continue to see growing investment in payer-owned consumer data aggregation platforms, biometric tracking initiatives, the next generation of social media platforms, and more."

Of course, the biometric tracking projects that payers are pursuing now are largely mobile health programs that include health apps and wearable devices. While many of these are exercise and movement focused, some are related to chronic condition management, too. Examples include Cigna's diabetes prevention partnership with BodyMedia from last January -- just before BodyMedia was acquired by Jawbone; AMC Health and Humana's congestive heart failure pilot from last July; and more.

For more on the Chilmark Research report, read this blog post from analyst Cora Sharma.