Health Plan EmblemHealth Taps the Power of the Cloud to Rapidly Roll Out New Mobile Health Apps

06 July 2011 | Dr. Dennis Schmuland, Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft

This seems to be the year of the mobile health application. Thus, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that forward-thinking health plans are getting in the game as well, offering mobile health applications to members and consumers alike. At the same time, health insurance exchanges loom on the horizon and plans are looking for ways to differentiate themselves beyond price alone. Each added member benefit counts towards building brand equity, affinity and overall member loyalty.

EmblemHealth sees mobile health apps as a necessary and differentiating benefit for members. EmblemHealth, which provides health insurance through its companies HIP Health Plan of NY and Group Health Incorporated (GHI) to 2.9 million people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, was determined to quickly develop and deploy user-friendly mobile health apps without having to build new infrastructure and go back to the development drawing board for each new app. They needed a single platform to support a growing and evolving portfolio of health apps. And, they needed a platform that would enable them to build each app once and deploy it anyplace, anytime, across many devices and many screens.
The solution? Use the cloud to host public health data (such as providers’ locations), develop mobile applications for a myriad of devices, and deliver the data to users’ devices in real-time.
EmblemHealth is using the Windows Azure platform to host various types of data which, via the Windows Phone 7 development system, can be easily and quickly accessed through the development of new health apps for the phone, PC or other devices. For example, EmblemHealth supported the development of a flu shot finder application earlier this year which provides NYC residents with information about where one can get a flu shot. The information resides in a database on Azure, and the mobile application pulls the relevant information and syncs with the GPS system on a Windows Phone 7 device to give users detailed walking/driving directions to their preferred flu shot location.
With Azure, EmblemHealth can re-use various public data hosted on Windows Azure and SQL Azure – like information about flu shot locations– rather than building one-off databases in-house – to store the information needed for each app.
When dealing with member-specific data, EmblemHealth employs a blended cloud approach. As security and privacy are paramount, it hosts its patient data on-site in a secure, encrypted database but still leverages the cloud to both build its mobile applications and deliver member information securely to users’ mobile devices.
EmblemHealth’s latest app is GetMyId, a mobile app that allows plan members to access a temporary health insurance identification card from their Windows phone. The application, which is available on Windows Marketplace, works like this:
Members can register and log-in to GetMyId directly from the mobile application on their Windows phone. They are prompted to select to display the ID card for themselves or their dependent(s). The member’s details are accessed from the EmblemHealth member database and a digital replica of the member’s ID appears on screen. Members can easily email a copy of the ID to a provider or other recipient.

At Microsoft, we’re continually working with customers and partners to harness the power of the cloud and the Windows Phone 7 platform, and build new mobile apps to add to our marketplace.
Dr. Dennis Schmuland
Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft