Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can We Rely on Mobile Health Apps?

Exclusive: Aetna to shut down CarePass by the end of the year

Troubling news from CarepassAfter MobiHealthNews spotted and reported on the departure of two Aetna executives on the CarePass team, Aetna has confirmed exclusively to MobiHealthNews that it will be phasing out the platform, and that the previously announced employer pilots will not be going forward.

Carepass has been available in the Chrome Store and on iTunes, however Aetna will cease to support the platform.

“At this time, we have decided to make no further investments in the CarePass platform,” an Aetna spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. “Current CarePass users will continue to have access to the CarePass platform for the time being, but we plan on closing the CarePass web and mobile experiences by the end of this year. In addition, we will not be conducting pilot programs with Aetna plan sponsors that were previously reported.”

In additional comments, the company emphasized the exploratory nature of the platform and stressed that valuable lessons had been learned.

The company found no shortage of willing partners to feed data into the app. Over the two years of its existence, CarePass interfaced with MapMyFitness, LoseIt, RunKeeper, Fooducate, Jawbone, Fitbit, fatsecret, Withings, breathresearch (makers of MyBreath), Zipongo, BodyMedia, Active, Goodchime!, MoxieFit, Passage, FitSync, FitBug, BettrLife, Thryve, SparkPeople, HealthSpark, NetPulse, Earndit, FoodEssentials,, Healthline, GoodRx, GymPact, Pilljogger, mHealthCoach, Care4Today, and meQuilibrium.

The news is noteworthy because CarePass, which Aetna launched last year and allowed consumers to track certain health apps from one online hub, was a unique mobile approach in the insurance industry that garnered widespread support and collaboration from mobile companies, including MapMyFitness, FitBit and Care4Today.
Aetna's CarePass also received consumer support, at least initially. "Overall, for the CarePass integrated apps, the downloads are more than 100 million. We started around the most popular spaces in mHealth--fitness and nutrition really dominate. So those are where you get the most downloads," Martha Wofford toldFierceHealthPayer in an interview before she departed Aetna as head of the CarePass program. Recent surveys have shown a very high dropout rate for users after an initial spurt of interest.

Aetna cancelled another mobile project — InvolveCare — earlier this year, although the company had invested considerably fewer resources in that product than in CarePass. Although Aetna had begun to downplay CarePass in recent months, for most of its existence it was the face of Aetna’s consumer health outreach and its mobile health endeavors.  This was despite expertise from Pivotal Labs after initial difficulty developing the platform.

The comments from Aetna follow a pattern of what has become a 'boiler-plate' statement by insurers and anyone connected with HIT. 

“One of the primary ways that Aetna is improving health care is through the increased use of innovative technology,” the spokesperson wrote. “We are consistently creating technology-based solutions that make it easier for consumers to navigate the health care system and get the most out of their health benefits. While we are continually developing these solutions, we also need to evaluate our investments to ensure that we are providing the most value to our members.”  “Aetna is committed to being a consumer-focused company that helps build a more connected and effective health care system,” 

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini had high hopes for the product, saying it would reduce healthcare costs and “make our economy healthier”.

Aetna is a major insurer with deep pockets. Software is not inexpensive to develop and early failures will lead to increasing costs.  Despite measures to create uniform interoperable electronic health records for providers, the same cannot be said about consumer oriented products.

When all is said and done, many enthusiastic and dedicated developers will find the going difficult.  Time will tell, and those mHealth apps with the most demand on the consumer side, or provider dependent mobile apps which are necessary for practice operations will suceed. 

Providers will insist on mobile health portals for communication and accessing data on the run.

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