17:48 PM

Improving Health Care Experience Means More Tech Investments



Horizon is pushing the boundaries of member-centric care. See why the award-winning Horizon Blue App is at the frontier.

With each passing day, the headlines are dominated by the news of how technology companies are disrupting health care. Companies large and small are developing new tools for electronic health records that follow the patient, wearable gadgets that track personal wellness and care, phone apps that make your health care experience easier and better, and other patient and consumer technologies that were not even imagined just a few months ago.

Horizon is endeavoring to bring these modern advances to its members. And the company just received a national validation that it’s on the right track with one of its most significant member-facing tools – the Horizon Blue App. This week, the Horizon team behind the app received a FutureEdge 50 award, which recognizes organizations that use new technologies to push boundaries within their industry.

“Technology is the future of health care,” said Douglas Blackwell, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Horizon BCBSNJ. “The app represents one way Horizon is looking to improve its technology so it can improve the member experience and advance its goal of delivering more member-centric health care.”

Blackwell and his team of IT, product and marketing specialists recognized that members needed a way to incorporate their health care interactions into their everyday lives. That meant turning to the convenience of smartphones.

“The world is now all about mobile,” said Blackwell. “We had already developed a successful member portal on our website, but today people use their smartphones a lot more than their computers.” This observation has been borne out: Close to 200,000 members have downloaded the app in the past year, with tens of thousands of additional members signing up each month.

A smart approach to innovation

Unlike tech companies such as Amazon or Google, with their nearly boundless resources, Horizon BCBSNJ had to be more strategic in developing the app. “We have a very strong IT team, but we can’t build everything ourselves,” Blackwell said.

The Horizon team looked outside its own walls to form collaborative partnerships with small technology companies, like Zipari, Pager and American Well.

The result was a one-stop mobile application that gives members the ability to manage and understand their coverage to make more informed decisions. The self-service features allow members to:

  • Chat with nurses 24/7 in real-time to get medical advice and book appointments
  • Access U.S. board-certified, licensed doctors via video, chat or phone
  • View claims and benefits
  • Save digital copies of their Horizon BCBSNJ member ID card to their device’s eWallet (e.g., Google Pay or Apple Pay)
  • Find in-network doctors and hospitals using Apple or Google maps

“Our goal is to give our members the right information at the right time,” explained Blackwell. For example, a virtual nurse’s visit could provide members all the clinical advice they need, or it could lead to a cost-effective recommendation to visit an urgent care center or ER.

The app’s easy-to-use interface was the product of focus groups and usability testing conducted with Horizon’s 5,300-strong member panel. Continuing to focus on member needs, the Horizon team seeks to keep evolving the app, making it easier to navigate and potentially linking it to wearables, like smartwatches, or connecting it to a patient’s own medical records.

With any use of sensitive patient data, Horizon has built in several strong layers of security – not just with the app but with all of its technology, said Blackwell. This is especially true with data-driven projects like Horizon’s HealthSphere, a health information exchange platform in which six OMNIA health systems share patient’s clinical data, and dozens of other practices with proper credentials can access a patient’s longitudinal history created by HealthSphere so they can provide better care.

Focused on continued innovation

The move to greater transparency and interoperability is being driven by government action and competition from other industries. “Health IT is exploding with change, those changes are evolving in real-time,” said Blackwell. “Unless Horizon evolves with the changes we are seeing from disrupters like Google, Amazon and national competitors that are innovating in the same areas, Horizon won’t be capable of delivering the health care experience that its customers expect and deserve. To keep up with member demands for more convenient and more accessible health care, Horizon will need to continue to invest in innovation.”

That’s why Horizon is now seeking legislation that would allow it to become a not-for-profit mutual holding company. This modernization of its corporate form would give Horizon the strategic and operational flexibility to accelerate the forward-focused investments necessary to best serve members and to compete with companies like Amazon and other national insurers in the New Jersey market that are investing in technology.

“Ignore Amazon at your peril,” said Blackwell. “Even though its app is available to just a small part of its employee base now, the company is well-known for turning small internal projects into industry-disrupting initiatives that sweep the nation.

“Technology makes up a huge part of where Horizon is heading in the future. Accelerating investments in technology would enable Horizon to continue creating the innovations that are essential for the long-term health and benefit of our members, both today and into the future.”

Disclaimer: Zipari, Pager and American Well are independent from and not affiliated with Horizon-BCBSNJ.