Slowly but steadily, healthcare is becoming more mobile about payments, and that trend – a very long time in coming – appears to have picked up steam in recent months. And, taken one step further, recent activity along those lines is helping to prepare the healthcare industry as a whole – not only for payments, but also for the arrival of 5G mobile network technology.
At least that’s a plausible conclusion when considering recent news involving Anthem Inc., among other companies that are active in the massive healthcare industry. The healthcare insurance provider recently launched a payments app designed to enable consumers to use their smartphones to schedule and pay for medical visits, get diagnoses and text with doctors.
People can use the service even if they’re not Anthem customers. The app, called CareSpree, reportedly will roll out later in July in Indiana before expanding to other states in Anthem’s territory. The new app will also tie in other features, including video doctor visits. Using a chat function powered by New York startup K Health Inc., artificial intelligence can suggest potential medical diagnoses for consumers and then connect them with a doctor over text for follow-up advice.
Other companies working on apps and digital tools include UnitedHealth Group Inc., CVS Health Corp. and Cigna Corp.
As this new Anthem mobile payments and healthcare move demonstrates, there is increasing focus and activity on tying patients’ smartphones into the healthcare ecosystem – a foreshadowing, perhaps, of what to expect in the new decade, which begins in just a few months.
PYMNTS, of course, has documented these recent shifts – and the trends fueling them – through its own original research. As one can imagine, some of the energy behind the move into mobile concerns both cost and efficiency – smartly designed mobile payment programs can ideally reduce overall costs of healthcare and help ensure that medical bills don’t get lost in the shuffle, which in turn benefits healthcare providers and insurers.
Consider the findings of the PYMNTS report “How Consumers Pay for Elective Medical Procedures,” where research done in conjunction between PYMNTS and Paya found that out of nearly 1,000 consumers, 9 percent considered elective care, such as cosmetic or vision-related procedures, but opted out because they could not afford it.
As many as 63 million Americans choose to have elective procedures, to the tune of $171 billion in annual healthcare spending. However, more consumers want elective procedures and decide against them compared to those who purchase such offerings. In fact, as the study found, in one subset of elective procedures (cosmetic surgeries), the value of that market could grow by $18.4 billion if those patients were offered payment plans. In a way, it’s a commerce model applied to health.
To smooth the friction on the providers’ end, UnitedHealthcare struck a deal to buy healthcare payments firm Equian – privately held by New Mountain Capital – for $3.2 billion. The company is focused on payment processing services for insurance firms and healthcare providers, with an eye on cutting down mistakes that lead to overpayments. The newly acquired company handles $500 billion in healthcare claims annually, and can analyze claims before and after they are paid.
5G Healthcare Innovation
More broadly, 5G mobile network technology is also promising to fuel more payments and other innovation in healthcare.
Take wearables as an example.
They are already being used as fitness trackers for related tasks, and now insurance companies and medical groups are testing out their effect on consumers – a trend that could lead to more precise and individual data, and perhaps even discounts or incentives for health insurance. According to one estimate, worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million in 2019 (not all of those devices are solely focused on health and fitness). In addition, end user spending on wearable devices is expected to reach $42 billion in 2019, with $16.2 billion of that amount on smartwatches.
“Part of the preventative care equation that 5G has the potential to unlock will be the increasing ubiquity of sensor data,” and that include wearables, according to one recent analysis of 5G and healthcare. “The market for wearable tech that monitors everything from your heartbeat to your blood sugar is booming, and caregivers are receiving previously unseen insight into the everyday health of their patients. Healthcare providers will be able to combine it with other data that is known to impact health – think air quality or other environmental stressors – but is currently not available for the average interactions between doctors and patients.”
As well, the current growth in voice assistance technology in retail will play out in healthcare in its own way, thanks in large part to 5G, according to the report. “5G will also open the door to integrating new data sources into personal care, like voice and video inputs, giving healthcare another layer of information from which to draw and new ways for patients to engage in their care.”
The new and emerging 5G mobile network technology also promises to enable more uses of virtual reality and augmented reality. That holds true in both retail and healthcare, according to reports, including those recently released by PYMNTS.
As the U.S. population continues to age – increasing demand for medical services – healthcare itself promise to get more mobile.