Aetna connecting mobile apps to its PHR

By Brian Dolan
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Aetna iPhone app mock-up"If we have learned one thing, it's that we need to leverage existing devices," Aetna's head of eHealth Product Management, Dan Greden said during his presentation at the World Healthcare Congress' Wireless Health event in Boston last week. Aetna has more than 19 million customers for its medical insurance plans.

"A very good example is the iPhone as exercise tracker," Greden explained. "Someone asked me earlier why I carry a BlackBerry, well, that's because it's the device Aetna has deemed safe enough for my corporate email."

Greden said because of its accelerometer, the iPhone is a better tool for exercise tracking. iPhone's accelerometer is "the same technology" found in many of today's better exercise trackers, including those created by Nike, Greden said. The iPhone has better technology than those simple $20 dollar pedometers, it has sophisticated exercise tracking abilities, he said.

"The opportunity [with the iPhone] is we don't have to ask [iPhone users] to wear another device to do this we can tap into their existing device they are already wearing," Greden said. "Just add an app to it. Last I checked there were half a dozen iPhone apps that we are working on integrating now."

Greden said Aetna is working to connect these apps to its online personal health record portal so its patients can track their activity and then send that data up to their Aetna PHR.

"I think, frankly, the consumers will be ready to embrace wireless before the providers are," Greden said. "This is a question of not forcing the technology to change behavior but letting the behavior evolve and change on it's own and when it seeks value from technology, making sure the technology is there to enable that change."

Other concept wireless applications that Aetna is tinkering with include an app that let's its patients review which medications are covered under the plan for a particular condition. If a doctor recommends one medication, the patient can use their app in real-time to ask the doctor whether this other medication, which might be a generic medication or a competing one, would be better or just as good.

"Patient-to-doctor, can you tell me about the difference between these two medications?" Greden said could become a conversation that empowered patients will be able to have more easily, thanks to apps like this one.

When asked, Greden also noted that Aetna has a number of services going live later this year that will help its members make healthy decisions regarding exercise, nutrition and general well-being.

"I haven't touched on that topic at all, but frankly, I see it as being at least as large an opportunity of the PHR," Greden admitted. "We call it the 'wellness space,' which is a bit of a cliche, but really the question is how should we interact with people in their day-to-day lives" to reinforce and encourage those healthy decisions.

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly checks out the Microsoft HoloLens aboard a space station on February 20, 2016. The device is part of NASA's project Sidekick, which is exploring the use of augmented reality to reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency with which astronauts can work in space. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)