Friday, March 14, 2008

Aetna Announces New Online Tool for Customers

Aetna Inc. has launched a brand new search site for its customers. It will allow customers to find search results based on their own health records. They will be able to get information on medical costs, diseases, local doctors, and more, all pertaining directly to their own medical records.

The new search site is called SmartSource, with the software coming from Healthline Networks.

In step toward personalized online medical information, Aetna plans to announce Wednesday a new service that draws upon a patient's own medical history to help answer questions about symptoms and treatments.

The Aetna offering, called SmartSource, has been tested by the company's 35,000 employees. It will be offered to employers that provide worker health benefits through Aetna, in a gradual introduction across the country that will begin in August.

The company, which has 16.8 million enrollees, plans to provide the service free to its customers, saying it wants to help people manage their own health care. Aetna hopes the service can help it recruit and retain employer-customers worried about the costs of care.

With the online offering, Aetna will be entering an arena in which WebMD is the leader for consumer medical information and where medical providers like the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Medical School are also players. The Web giants Google and Microsoft are also laying plans to let consumers link electronic medical records and online research.

But one of the biggest challenges in linking online research to personal health data has been a widespread reluctance to share health information that might fall into the wrong hands or be abused, affecting job opportunities and insurance premiums.

"The underlying challenge is - 'Do you trust the insurance companies?' " said Mike Davis, a health technology analyst with the HIMSS Analytics consulting firm.

Addressing the trust issue, Meg McCabe, Aetna's vice president for online programs, said, "We make sure the information is secured and shared, based on the member's purposes."

The information will not be used to raise or lower premiums or reject membership applications. "That would not be a good business decision," Ms. McCabe said. "We need to develop a relationship with our members based on trust."

Using a medical search engine developed by Healthline, a medical database software developer, Aetna is piecing together medical profiles that are based on records of each insured member's illnesses and diagnostic tests and that also make assumptions about their health concerns as reflected in their search topics.

Andrea Rosenberg, a quality supervisor in an Aetna call center in Phoenix, said she had used the system to conduct research about her 5-year-old daughter Hayley's ear infections and her own allergy symptoms.

Like the millions of working mothers - a segment who are major online searchers for health information - Ms. Rosenberg said she had searched other health Web sites but found that the Aetna site provided information that was "more specific" to her situation. After looking it over, she took Hayley to see the family pediatrician. As for her allergies, she decided to stick with nonprescription medicines from the drugstore.

Health plan members have been slow to add their information to personal health records offered by many insurers, at least until a family member gets sick. But Aetna and some other health insurers, including UnitedHealth and WellPoint, have made an end run around this obstacle by creating rudimentary health profiles based on medical claims data.

Aetna says it has gone further by using the profile to help tailor the SmartSource searches.

"I don't know of anybody else who is matching members' claims information with a search engine to help them look for medical content," said Julie Snyder, a technology and health care analyst at Forrester Research.

But some industry experts say that medical claims data have limited utility, providing only "an echo of the events that go on in your care," according to Wes Rishel, a senior health care analyst at the Gartner Group technology consulting firm. "Also, at any time, the information is 15 to 45 days old."

Dr. Rishel said more useful data would eventually come directly from the person's doctors and hospital visits. Google and Microsoft are trying to get that information, although he predicts it will take "about two years" to reach that goal.

About: Aetna Inc..

Aetna, Inc is an American diversified health care benefits company, providing a range of traditional and consumer directed health care insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life, long-term care, and disability plans, and medical management capabilities. it is a Fortune 100 member.


Aetna Inc. announced Wednesday that it has partnered with a San Francisco's Healthline Networks Inc. to offer to its members a pilot version of a search engine that personalizes database search results.

The tool mines information from Aetna's databases and delivers search results based on a patient's gender, age, ZIP code, health care plan and employer.

The search engine is available for use only by Aetna members and can provide information about local doctors participating in the plan, treatment options and medications that would make sense given the searcher's medical history and estimated health care costs.

Aetna (NYSE: AET), which is based in Hartford, Conn., and has operations in Pleasanton, made made the application called Aetna SmartSource available first to its own 35,000 employees. It will be rolling out to large employer groups throughout 2008.

to make sure you are as engaged as possible in managing your health care."

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