Editor’s Note:  According to MobiHealthNews, the number of health-centric apps has quadrupled since 2010—and Frost and Sullivan predicts that the mobile health market will exceed $390 million this year. Pew research shows that almost two-thirds of Americans now own smartphones—and 62% have used them to look up health information. In a new post for Health360, the Brookings Institution blog, summarized below, Joel Ario of Manatt Health and Stuart Butler of Brookings examine how the explosion in smartphone usage and mobile apps is empowering healthcare consumers as they make decisions around their healthcare coverage. Click here to read the full post.

Choosing a health plan on one of the new public or private exchanges is no easy task. That’s especially true for those with medical conditions who want to be very sure the plan they enroll in will provide the services they need.

Of course, it’s always hard for consumers to buy complex and technical services or products. Health insurance can be particularly daunting, however, with so many factors to consider. Even the terminology can be confusing.

Consumers will have many questions—from what the price is to if their doctor is in the plan’s network to whether the drugs they take are on a formulary. There are so many choices that the decision process can result in what some call “choice anxiety.” Technology, however, can reduce choice anxiety in healthcare, as it has for other complicated searches.

Technology’s Dramatic Impact on Healthcare Coverage

Expect technology to have a dramatic impact on buying healthcare in the near future. There are several reasons for this:

  • The presentation of consumer information will get better. When large new markets for products and services are created and demand for buyers’ information rises sharply, the incentive for entrepreneurs—both for-profit and nonprofit—to provide customer-friendly information also rises.
  • Navigation technology will make searches quick and simple. We expect plan navigation to improve the shopping experience in ways that will help customers search a large inventory and still make choices easily.  Expect increasing collaboration between public exchanges and private vendors with a surge of apps and gadgets to make navigation in health exchanges increasingly easy.
  • Technology will allow choices to be tailored to medical history. Advances in technology will enable Americans to base their choices on their likely medical needs. New forms of choice technology are beginning to utilize questions about medical history to guide buyers to the plans most suited to their conditions.

Consumers’ ability to enter more detailed health histories and get more sophisticated assistance will only continue to improve as exchanges publish more data in machine readable formats. Expect more and increasingly sophisticated customized navigators, especially as patients get more access to their electronic medical records. In addition, expect sellers to respond with products that bundle services to meet the new demand.

Conclusion

Health insurance marketplaces will continue to present thorny regulatory challenges. Insurance regulators will need to guard against unfair practices, privacy concerns will be raised when apps ask for medical history, and new forms of provider integration will test antitrust doctrine. But one thing is clear: Improving technology will soon make picking the right health plan a far more precise and simple process.