Mobile tools help public, private payers be more proactive

By: Jonah Comstock | Dec 6, 2012        

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(Left to Right) Mark Wynn, William Shrank, and CMMI Innovation Award winners Kevin Volpp, Deborah Stewart, and David Goodman

(Left to Right) Mark Wynn, William Shrank, and CMMI Innovation Award winners Kevin Volpp, Deborah Stewart, and David Goodman

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini’s opening keynote set the tone for an mHealth Summit with a notable, but not unexpected, payer presence. In 2010 MobiHealthNews wrote about the changing role of the payer in health care, predicting that payers would soon help drive the mobile health agenda. The 2012 summit confirmed that prediction may soon be proven true.

“We as payers cannot go forward as [the] traditional payers as you know today, but rather we have to interact with the patients to give them the right information, when they need it,” said Pat Keran, Senior Director if Innovation and Research and Development for the UnitedHealth Group. “We need to provide upfront care management.”

Keran spoke about several UHG initiatives that use mobile health to engage patients directly. In addition to their OptumizeMe app, he said they were looking into other ways to leverage social media, such as creating a rating system for care providers and using big data to track public opinion about health care reform to inform company decisions.

Marty Webb of AT&T spoke at the same panel, likening his company to the large payers because of the scope of its employee healthcare program.

“We currently sponsor one of the largest private sector health plans in the country,” he said. “What happens at AT&T in many senses mimics what happens in the United States.”

Webb updated the crowd on AT&T’s DiabetesManager, and presented some efficacy data. He said that in an employee pilot study, 9 out of 10 employees said they’d recommend the mobile-enabled diabetes management program to a friend, and that the percent of employees checking their blood glucose daily went from 50 percent at the start of the program to 75 percent at the end.

But it’s not just private payers that are investing in mobile health innovation. The government is also seeking ways to cut the cost of Medicare and Medicaid spending, and is looking to mobile health to reduce some of those costs.

The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation (CMMI) also presented 107 Health Care Innovation Awards recently to programs, including mHealth programs, promising to improve quality and lower cost of care. CMMI gave an average of $8.2 million to each program. There were 2,260 applications.

Will Shrank, Director of the Center’s Rapid Cycle Evaluation Group, stressed during his remarks at the summit that these were not merely grants, but that the center would be working closely and continuously with each program to monitor progress.

“We want to be part of the solution,” he said. “We want to be much more proactive, much more involved, much more collaborative.”

“This is as symbiotic a relationship as you can possibly make. It’s not a grant. We’re not just giving you money for you to do your own thing,” Mark Wynn, Senior Advisor at CMMI said. “I think there’s something beautiful about how we’re interacting and trying to support and encourage strategies for improvement.”

The interventions receiving the awards address specific conditions in specific populations, many with chronic conditions that represent a disproportionate share of Medicaid costs. For instance, one group’s intervention was using mobile solutions specifically to counteract diabetic neuropathy in Hawaii.

“None of them are generalizable and none are ready to be immediately scaled nationally,” Shrank said. “But if we’re able to demonstrate successful models, we do have a chance to spread them.”