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Health insurance goes mobile

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Posted: 9 am ET

What's the healthiest move you can make right now? Quit smoking? Of course. Watch your weight? Good idea. Work out occasionally? Can't hurt.

But if you really want to turn all those Mom-wise good intentions into actual results, your best health move may be to acquire a smartphone.

While health insurance companies, medical practitioners and the federal government nudge our medical infrastructure toward electronic health records and provider connectivity, Silicon Valley is rolling out the future of medicine with mobile apps that can save you money and make you healthier today.

Track your health insurance 'Simplee'

This month, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup unveiled Simplee, a free mobile app that enables you to carry your medical bills, outstanding claims and health insurance data on your Apple device when you visit the doctor, as well as pay your bill from your smartphone.

Having that information at her fingertips gave Simplee director of design Evelyn Wang a leg up when she went in for knee surgery recently. When the hospital demanded payment upfront, Wang was able to Simplee show them that she had already met her annual deductible, and hence didn't overpay.

Blue Button and MDRevolution

The feds offer their own version of a mobile "medical wallet" called Blue Button, which enables Medicare recipients and U.S. veterans to access, download and store up to three years' worth of personal health records onto their computer, tablet, smartphone and other mobile devices.

Dr. Samir Damani, a 37-year-old cardiologist in La Jolla, Calif., is more interested in health results than electronic records, however. In 2011, he rounded up the necessary IT folks and started MDRevolution, a first shot at combining mobile health tracking, genetic assessments and personalized coaching.

MDRevolution collects all your relevant health data upfront, including genetic risk factors, metabolic rate, even how fast you metabolize coffee, then uses proprietary software to design a personalized plan that includes how often and how much to work out, what to eat and what not to eat. The lab then monitors your workout remotely via fitness tracking and heart monitoring devices. Patients pay between $25 and $75 per month for the program.

A health coach in your hand

Integrative health/fitness programs are well-timed to take advantage of health care reform's patient-centered approach to medicine, which rewards doctors based on how well they keep patients healthy rather than simply by how many procedures they perform. Companies such as Healthrageous, Keas and ShapeUp are busy selling the idea of mobile health coaching to U.S. companies desperate to cut both their health insurance costs and losses due to absenteeism.

While this digital road to wellness is no doubt paved with good intentions, I can't help but wonder whether the health data that a remote lab collect today might one day prove costly tomorrow in the form of higher health insurance premiums.

Let's hope that the "doctor in a phone" comes with HIPAA-like privacy protections.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.

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