Why Aetna acquired iTriage app maker Healthagen

By: Brian Dolan | Dec 16, 2011        

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Aetna iTriage Aetna has acquired mobile health startup, Healthagen, developer of the popular health app iTriage, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition marks one of the first exits for a high profile mobile health startup.

Aetna is also leveraging the mobile application in its accountable care organization (ACO) offering, where it will be a key component for consumer engagement, Aetna executives said during an investor day presentation this week. (More on how iTriage fits into that offering in the graphic at the end of this article).

“iTriage is our patient engagement side of this [ACO offering],” Dr. Charles Saunders, Head of Strategic Diversification at Aetna, said during his presentation yesterday. Saunders said that the care providers he has spoken with recently all recognize that consumers need to be engaged in order to help them navigate the healthcare system, understand how the system works, “prevent leakage” outside of the ACO network, and have a better patient experience. Saunders said all of this was key “to engaging them in behaviors that help them to be a partner in reducing the cost of care.”

iTriage looks to be at the forefront of Aetna’s consumer engagement strategy: “There is an extensive vision for the consumer experience, but we do think that patient engagement will be key to the relationship here,” Saunders said. “iTriage has relationships with several hundred hospitals and tens of thousands of physicians. It is growing very rapidly.” In August, Healthagen added 180 new hospital customers thanks to a deal with Schumacher Group.

“iTriage is a mobile application that is the market leader, market leading healthcare application with over 3 million downloads across the Apple iTunes and Android platforms,” Saunders continued. “It is available worldwide and was created by a couple of ER docs [who] understood that consumers engaged with healthcare differently than people [had previously thought].”

iTriage offers a symptom navigator that helps users find nearby health facilities or physicians that could help them with their specific health issue. Thanks to a recent acquisition of its own (it bought AppointmentCity this past February), iTriage added appointment booking functionality into the application. Saunders described iTriage as a mobile application that “meets users where they are” and “provides an array of tools for understanding their symptom” along with “geolocation features” that help users “find a provider near them” who can solve that problem in a facility “that is appropriate to that condition.”

“People don’t generally engage healthcare when they already know that they have a meniscus tear and they need to have an MRI of their knee or that they already know that it is time to get a colonoscopy,” Saunders said. “As it happens, more commonly consumers engage the healthcare system far farther upstream when they have a vague notion that they need something but they don’t know what that something is.”

Aetna is already bolting on new features for iTriage users.

“We are layering on additional tools and capabilities so that [iTriage users] can get an accurate estimate of what the costs will be,” Saunders said. “So that they can make an intelligent choice based on who is in-network or which is the lowest cost, highest quality option. And then to be able to directly register or book an appointment with that provider and do that in a disruptive way.” Saunders said the information collected in that visit would then be pulled through and down to the personal healthcare record, which Aetna’s ActiveHealth product team manages.

Saunders closed his discussion of iTriage by noting that the mobile app as well as other offerings from recent Aetna acquisitions, including Medicity, are tools that are provided by Aetna in a “payor neutral way.”

“iTriage is a market neutral application that is available to all payors, all consumers, all providers,” Saunders said. “Access to data and privacy are absolutely critical to the success of these applications and we believe in that strongly.”

Interestingly, just a few weeks ago Aetna announced an iTriage-like app for people living in various markets outside of the US.

For a better understanding of how Aetna is leveraging its recent acquisitions and existing assets, including Medicity, iTriage, ActiveHealth, iNexx and more to create its ACO offering, check out the graphic below: Aetna Healthagen

  • http://twitter.com/IntuitiveDNA Intuitive Health

    Congratulations to Pete Hudson and team.  His early vision was brilliantly executed.  I am looking forward to seeing more from Pete in the future.

    Eric Rock
    Intuitive Health

  • http://twitter.com/RebeccaCoelius Rebecca Coelius

    Fantastic news. I am especially gleeful given the first major mobile health exit is a company started by ER docs- perhaps now you aspiring entrepreneurs will be convinced that domain knowledge can actually be helpful on the team, rather than discounting all of us MDs as anti innovation? 

  • Michael Cadger

    Health care on mobile apps is a great strategy — in about 20 years.  The demographic groups using mobile apps are young, healthy twenty somethings.  Their demand for health care info will arrive when they are 40 somethings. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; it’s just an idea with a very small user market that will grow (in terms of market share of potential users) very slowly.  Glad to see iTriage find a buyer before the market is flooded with such apps that are easy to replicate (mapquest, groupon).

    And Aetna’s claim of tools provided in a “payor neutral way”.  What is that ?  Is Aetna saying it’s back in the price fixing game (see NY AG settlement Jan 2009) where Aetna paid the second largest settlement while admitting no guilt but agreeing not to engage in price sharing platforms involving other payers.  Or is Aetna ready to reveal the quality and prices of its network providers — knowing that with their networks containing 90% of all providers, at least 40% of them are subpar (only half can be better than average) performers in terms of quality and price.  And is Aetna willing to provide side by side network provider comparisons of quality and price.  Which brings us back to the issue of sharing prices and other information with other insurers, aka price fixing.

    Face it, any insurer has a vested interest in touting its networks as better than competitors.  Any claims of being “payer neutral” are disingenuous at best. 

    “Provider neutral way” ?!?  There’s no such thing when it comes from an insurer — not legally or objectively anyway.  But it makes for nice propaganda. 

    Mike Cadger, Founder & CEO
    Monocle Health Data  THE Healthcare Price & Quality Transparency Solution for Employers and Providers
    404 630 8980

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  • http://www.thenerdynurse.com/ The Nerdy Nurse

    iTriage is a very useful app. It’s impressive to see an app like this that is helpful to healthcare consumers and providers alike.