UnitedHealth Group Promotes Mobile Health Apps

Joining forces with mobile health vendors, UnitedHealth Group seeks to offer a broader array of patient monitoring services to its customers.

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

January 12, 2012

3 Min Read

7 Patient Education Tools

7 Patient Education Tools

7 Patient Education Tools (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Health plans are embracing new technology to differentiate themselves from the competition and build stronger ties to their customers. One of the most popular ways of doing that is through mobile apps, which let patients play a more active role in monitoring a variety of health conditions and factors.

The latest company to jump on that trend is UnitedHealth Group, which this week announced that it has partnered with three mobile health technology companies that will offer mobile products and services to UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group that provides healthcare coverage and benefit services to individuals across the country.

CareSpeak Communications, FitNow, and Fitbit will join forces with UnitedHealth Group to enhance the consumer experience by making health related information accessible via smartphones and other mobile devices.

The news coincides with the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being held this week in Las Vegas, where UnitedHealth Group's booth features real-time biometric screenings and the Microsoft Xbox with Kinect fitness challenges.

[ Legally, EHRs are double-edged swords: They protect clinicians from malpractice litigation but also put them at greater risk. See Will Your EHR Land You In Court? ]

Bud Flagstad, vice president of strategic initiatives at United Health Group, told InformationWeek Healthcare that many new health related technologies have been developed to address a growing need for patients to take charge of their own care.

"Healthcare reform certainly has helped increase the speed at which companies are moving to develop technology that monitors patient care," Flagstad said. "In the face of high cost health plans and consumers having to pay more [for the cost of healthcare], these kinds of technology tools have started to become very important."

Among the technologies that will enhance UnitedHealthcare members' ability to monitor their health is the CareSpeak Communications' medication and disease management application that enables patients to manage their care using two-way text messaging on their mobile phones. The CareSpeak system allows patients to report their medication intakes and biometric data such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and weight to their care providers. Patients also receive educational and motivational messages, as well as incentives and rewards for meeting their health goals.

For those who want to lose weight, Lose It!, created by FitNow, is a mobile app that runs on iPhones or Android devices. The app can improve consumer's ability to track their progress, offering peer support, and providing important caloric and nutritional information on what they eat.

To track physical activity, Fitbit offers a wireless tracker that includes an accelerometer that can count how many steps a user takes, and an altimeter that tracks stairs climbed. The device also calculates how many calories are burned, and the information can be uploaded wirelessly to Fitbit.com where consumers can analyze their physical activity.

Fitbit will be integrated with the OptumizeMe mobile health app developed by UnitedHealth Group's health services company, Optum. OptumizeMe encourages a network of family, friends, and co-workers to monitor their progress and engage in fitness competitions as a way to promote and achieve healthy behavior.

When are emerging technologies ready for clinical use? In the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, find out how three promising innovations--personalized medicine, clinical analytics, and natural language processing--show the trade-offs. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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