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New world for health coverage

CEO: Technology bringing change


– WellPoint CEO Joseph Swedish says that when people ask what a doctor’s appointment will be like in the future, they assume that patients will physically have to visit an office.

They’re wrong, the insurance executive told The Associated Press during an interview at its New York headquarters.

“I would argue that will no longer be necessary in the not-too-distant future,” Swedish said after pulling out a smartphone to show how it can be used to help remotely diagnose problems like ear infections.

Swedish says adapting to technology is a top priority for him as he leads the nation’s second largest health insurer.

Swedish has gotten a good reception from Wall Street since taking the top job at WellPoint last year. The Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer’s stock has climbed about 76 percent since WellPoint named him CEO – more than twice the growth of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

Following are highlights from the interview:

Adding services

WellPoint is adapting to technology by doing things like covering visits to workplace health kiosks, where a company’s employees can speak live with a doctor and get diagnosed without leaving the office. It’s also testing a program that allows a mom to attach an otoscope to her smartphone and let a doctor remotely peer inside her child’s ears. That doctor can then electronically file a prescription, and the mom doesn’t have to miss work for the doctor’s appointment.

These advances can make care access easier, and they cater to younger generations that have grown up with smartphones.

“We really have to pivot and adapt to the demands of the consumer,” Swedish said.

Studying habits

Marketers have used so-called big data for years to figure out where consumers spend their money. Swedish calls the 581 million medical claims that WellPoint processes every year an “incredible data mine” that can offer valuable insights.

Data mining can help WellPoint determine whether patients are filling prescriptions and whether they need reminders about follow-up care.

Insurers see what may look like cyber-nagging as ways to improve care and cut costs in the long run.

Serving shoppers

The days of people simply using whatever health plan their employer offered are starting to fade. They now face choices, so they have to figure out which plan offers the best doctors for their needs or which coverage has manageable out-of-pocket costs.

Insurance also isn’t covering as much of the bill as it used to, which exposes patients more to health care costs.

Swedish said consumers aren’t yet ready for this industrywide shift toward health care shopping, and it will be a difficult transition.

“We now have a responsibility to give people information that they can understand,” he said.