Interview: Highmark introduces private label ADAM iphone app

A few weeks back Highmark, the big Pennsylvania Blues plan, became one of the first major US insurers to introduce a local navigational iPhone app—a white labeled version of the ADAM tool formerly known as Medzio. I caught up with Steffan Johnson, the Consumer Lead at Highmark responsible for the app to talk about why they did this and where insurers like Highmark might be heading. (And in a technical note, I’ve gone back to transcribing interviews rather than putting up the audio. Let me know what you think. Do you like the transcript or the audio or both? Please answer in the comments)

Matthew Holt: I am talking with Steffan Johnson. Steffan’s formal title is the Senior Consumerism Lead at Highmark. Highmark of course is the big Blues Plan, that was Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Blue Shield, but is now a Delaware regional insurer in Pennsylvania, and one of the biggest Blues plans overall. Steffan, good morning! Actually, good afternoon for you!

Steffan Johnson: Good morning Matthew!

Matthew: The reason I have got you on here is that you guys have just done a deal with a company that we know well at Health 2.0 called A.D.A.M. This is actually the continuation of something that A.D.A.M. introduced back in early 2009, so a little while ago. And A.D.A.M. has been through some changes, not the least of which is they got purchased by another company this morning, which I just found out about

But they introduced something called Medzio, which was an iPhone based app that brought in multiple different sources of information. In the last bit of time, they have been discussing private labeling that with various customers, and you guys are, I think, going to be the first one. So give me a little bit of a sense, first off, what does a Senior Consumerism Lead mean and what do you do?

Steffan: I guess I am charged in the direction of mobile and digital strategy for the web. So obviously with the iPhone application launch, that’s our mobile offering, but we are also looking at a number of different digital offerings from a web perspective to push out to our members, to keep them engaged with our brand.

Matthew: So you are basically in charge of the outward facing digital strategy for the consumer. So let’s dive into the new offering. For somebody who hasn’t seen, which is quite likely, the Medzio application, which is now not called that, tell us, how are you branding it, what are you going call it, and what’s it going to do?

Steffan: It will be called Health@Hand branded both Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Highmark Blue Shield in our core market areas, which are Western Pennsylvania for the Blue Cross Blue Shield brand and Central Pennsylvania for just our Shield brand.

We partnered with A.D.A.M. as you mentioned earlier, because they are the leading consumer health information company and we have had a longstanding, over five years plus standing with them as our content partner for Health Encyclopedia and other products that we have engaged with them on.

So we felt this was a good merger of bringing world-class content that we already had on our website that list both password with our membership, to mobile capabilities and partnering that with probably the most utilized tool on our website, which is our Provider Directory.

So the application will be branded with two brands as were mentioned, and really look to empower our members to truly understand kind of health care decisions and be with them when they need guidance, by means of being part of their lives well beyond insurance, and getting Highmark into that educational space.

Matthew: So now I have gone to the App Store and downloaded it, or gone to my iPhone. Is it at the moment iPhone only or has that got an Android version too?

Steffan: Just right now we have just launched it for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Matthew: Okay. And is it for members only or can anybody use it at the moment?

Steffan: It is for members only. We really wanted to obviously give our members something of value or a value add to them in their services that Highmark offers, because obviously it was driven by member information, member segmentation data, that drove us to the decision to do something in the mobile space.

So the desired behavior would be to log into the Highmark member portal, and once you are post password, the core functionality within the actual application is the Provider Directory. So we have housed the download instructions on our Choose Providers tab.

Once you are on the Choose Providers tab, you will receive a registration code that again only our members would have available. That registration code and the link will take you out to the Apple iTunes Store to download the application and unlock it via that one time registration code.

Matthew: So if I am not using the app on my iPhone, having gone through that process, is this telling me specific information to me? I mean, does it know about the plan I am in, and therefore give me the right selection of providers for that particular plan, or is it the same for everybody?

Steffan: Your provider network is based upon your specific plan location. So again, as I mentioned from a branding perspective, we have Western Pennsylvania and Central Pennsylvania, which are our core markets, but our network varies slightly between those markets. So the Central market, if you are using the application, obviously you are going to see the different brand, but also by zip code that you use to find a specific doctor will bring in just those doctors that are within that square mile radius or given your location that are in the plan in that particular area, versus you being in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and putting in a zip code there and getting a doctor that’s sitting over here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Matthew: So in terms of functionality that’s currently in the app, obviously you mentioned content –and there is always a lot of content from A.D.A.M.– converted for the iPhone. You also mentioned Provider search. What else is in it currently, and then tell me a bit about what your plans are to add other features as well or other content?

Steffan: Sure. Also, currently, we have leveraged A.D.A.M. for a navigator, which allows you to bring up a human body of adult male, adult female, or small child male, small child female, turn the body forwards and back to pinpoint specific locations on the body, to then be given different symptoms that could be related to that specific area of the body. That way you are able to kind of have a guided medical intervention of different symptoms that you may be experiencing for that body part.

We also have embedded within the Discounts part of the application, an area for specific partners that we have discounts with, such as a Jenny Craig and Reebok, Western Hotels, and a number of other different partners in the recreation and travel, as well as health and wellness category, that we basically take their partner site and take the Highmark member directly into those partner site and expose them to those discounts and benefits that Highmark has obviously negotiated on behalf of that particular member.

Matthew: In terms of sort of next steps, maybe not giving away trade secrets, but let me ask you anyway. There is obviously a lot of information that Highmark has about its members. I don’t know how much you have gone down the path that some other health plans have of pushing either specific information or classes or programs or what have you, at particular types of patients like this, with diabetes, or young kids, or whatever that demographic is.

Is that some place you are going anyway, and is there plans to roll that into this applications too, or am I getting beyond myself?

Steffan: We envision this as a series of apps, both an evolution of this app obviously and the series of other apps can focus on different paths of the health care spectrum. We notice that a number of our competitors are all trending towards the PHR area of having your medical card available to you in your wallet. Or your claims information available to you in the palm of your hand.

And we wanted to kind of differentiate ourselves and really be the frontrunner in the space of more so health wellness and health education by, again, giving you that content to help guiding your decisions about your health.

So to say that we do see add-ons to the current application, where we really take a look at our current market from a demographics perspective, so there are some conversations about how do we penetrate certain demographics that could have a huge benefit to this particular application.

So we are looking at ethnographic type things that could relate to our members in specific areas. We are not shying away from the PHR area, where you are able to view certain things via the mobile applications, such as your claims card, but I think for right now we are really going to just build this space for Highmark in more of a health education and health wellness area, to really extend Highmark into that spectrum, instead of more on the insurance claims side.

So there are a few particular items in the pipeline that I can’t particularly discuss right now, but we are looking at something that’s going to be definitely very revolutionary to the health care and health education market.

Matthew: It kind of amused me, you talked about competitors, because everyone thinks that Highmark has no competitors in the market.

Steffan: Oh no! We have many. Trust me.

Matthew: But in general, do you think the role of a plan, a big regional Blues plan is going to be increasingly providing solution sets? Let me extend that to one other area, which is things like online communities and then wellness benefits for employers. Do you see yourself heading more aggressively into that market? Because obviously a lot of people are going direct to self-insured employers, and there are obviously a lot of activities already that consumers themselves are doing online without really going through a health plan or whatever, but going to online content sites and the WebMDs of the world, as well as online communities.

Do you think that’s a space that Highmark is going to be committed to playing in, or is this more of a toe in the water type of effort?

Steffan: Oh no! We are committed to this space and the overall digital and mobile health care ecosystem as a whole. This is just a first of, again, many offerings that we are committed to developing and launching in the mobile application space.

I think it would be suffice to say that wellness and education will probably be our core offerings, but we do see a benefit in adding, again, low-hanging fruit type items such as reminders, text reminders about different things; your doctor’s appointment, your flu shot, texting you directions if you need turn by turn directions to your doctor’s office. Sending you reminder updates or texting you a reminder from your doctor to say, oh, I may be running a bit late, or the doctor’s wait time has increased from a 10 minute wait time to a 30 minute wait time. Are you okay with that?

And you would be able to have a kind of back and forth engaging relationship with your provider as to your availability based on theirs as well. So looking at a number of different areas to really grow Highmark in a very aggressive manner in this space.

Matthew: So that’s really interesting. You have a partnership with A.D.A.M. and I am sure you have been looking at a lot of others. There are a number of little companies in the Health of 2.0 world, which have solutions for some or all of those types of things. We have always been saying that the real solution of this is that, health insurers–let’s be fair, have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to engage consumers in the last couple of decades. You either have to figure this out and start working with all of this technology innovators or not. And it looks like you guys have gone down that path. So that’s actually — that’s already interesting, and it’s kind of encouraging.

So I will wrap it there. The new product is now available to Highmark members, as we heard, they can get it through the App Store. It’s a collaboration between Highmark and their vendor, A.D.A.M.I have been talking with Steffan Johnson, who is the Senior Consumerism Lead at Highmark, the Big Blues plan in Western and Central Pennsylvania.

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