WellPoint Offers New Online Tools To Help Consumers Make Smarter Health-Care Decisions - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

WellPoint Offers New Online Tools To Help Consumers Make Smarter Health-Care Decisions

Consumers can research drug and treatment options, risks, and costs, and can evaluate hospital services.

As consumers dig deeper into their own pockets for health-care co-payments, deductibles, prescriptions, and other expenses, some health-plan companies and employers are providing their members and workers with online tools to help them compare costs and the quality of treatments and health-care providers.

On Wednesday, one of the nation's largest health-benefits companies, WellPoint Inc., expanded the suite of Web-based decision-support tools it provides to help its 28.8 million members make better-informed health choices.

Through an expanded partnership with technology provider Subimo LLC, WellPoint members can go online to compare, among other things, quality, safety, and cost information on hospitals nationwide; quality and risk indicators for specific health treatment options; nationwide average prices of drugs and treatment options; and coverage and costs for treatments by in-network and out-of-network health-care providers.

Subimo provides access to its online health-care decision-support tools to WellPoint members via an ASP model, Subimo CEO Ann Mond Johnson says. Subimo "stays on top of the measures and metrics" used in the health-care industry, by the U.S. government, and by other sources, and uses that data to help consumers compare cost and quality information online via Subimo's tools, Johnson says.

For instance, a WellPoint member who needs a heart valve replacement can go online and find information such as the types of surgery and other treatment options that are available, potential risks, and nearby hospitals that perform the surgery, as well as quality-of-service information about those hospitals, such as the number of reported postoperative infections and other complications.

Mark Boxer, president and CEO of consumer-driven health plans, enterprise services, and Medicare government business for WellPoint, says the online tools provide consumers with access to the type of information they've become accustomed to using for big-ticket purchases and other important decisions in their lives.

"You can try to buy a car without a Consumer Reports providing safety, features, price, and other information, but that would be tough," he says. As more health-care decision-making responsibility and costs shift to consumers, "you need to give them the right tools" for getting information about providers, costs, and quality, he says.

WellPoint is among a growing number of insurers, health plans, and employers offering or expanding services to help their members and workers make better-informed decisions about their health and their family's health, Johnson says.

"Regardless of payments or plans you have, we've seen that people just have a fundamental need to know about their health," Johnson says. And with the advent of high deductibles and shifts in health benefits and coverage, consumers need to be knowledgeable about their treatment options and their costs, she says.

Johnson says Subimo also recently unveiled an online decision-support service called My Healthcare Advisor for small businesses to provide to employees.

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