Aetna Announces Plans for Personalized Online Health Tool
Aetna officials on Wednesday announced plans to offer a new online search tool that will give members no-cost access at to medical information, information on local physicians who can address their needs and cost information based on their medical histories and coverage levels, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12).
Aetna developed the service, called SmartSource, in partnership with Healthline Networks, a medical database software developer. The insurer is using information about members' medical claims and diagnostic tests, as well as the topics they have searched for, to tailor SmartSource searches.Aetna will offer the service to employers that purchase health insurance through the company. The insurer hopes to use the program to attract and retain business from companies with concerns about health care costs (Freudenheim, New York Times, 3/12).
About 30,000 Aetna employees have tested the service, and the company plans to expand the service to about two million members by the end of 2008 as part of a pilot program before making it available to all 16.8 million members (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12).
One of the biggest challenges associated with connecting online research to personal health data is the reluctance by patients to share health information that might be used inappropriately or affect job opportunities and insurance premiums, according to the Times.
Meg McCabe, vice president for online programs at Aetna, said that the new service is secure and that the company will not use any information related to the service to increase or reduce premiums or reject membership applications (New York Times, 3/12).
Aetna officials added that they would not sell or share information or target ads at consumers based on their search history.
In addition, because Aetna is a health insurer, it is required to comply with federal health privacy laws that do not apply to companies like Microsoft and Google, according to Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12).