Let the games begin

By the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2017, there will be nearly 1.4 mobile devices per capita. If these stats—taken from Cisco’s data traffic projections—are uninspiring, consider the bottom line: if you don’t get in the game, someone else will. When Benefits Canada researched social media trends, we were impressed to find a digital ecosystem pregnant with industry-related apps and services that scored high on form and functionality. The potential for medical education in this fertile environment has been known for more than a decade. But now mobile health solutions have graduated from the trial phase to be fully entrenched in the commercialization phase—and, by some accounts, are on track to reach $26 billion globally by 2017. Barring planned obsolescence, what’s featured in this roundup is based on neither popularity ratings nor most downloaded. Instead, utility and potential for ubiquity make these apps and services worth checking out.

Virtual advisor
If the goal to enhance a plan member’s relationship with the financial world seems lofty, Desjardins Financial Security’s augmented reality (AR) tool might change that perception. With the help of AR technology, information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive or manipulable. Once an AR app is activated and pointed at the target image, it takes the user to a dynamic message with graphics, sounds or games. Desjardins used a poster featuring one of its popular education advisors in a recent educational program—Your Way, Plain and Simple—geared toward young employees. Since plan members heard retirement tips from someone they knew and already trusted, they were more likely to sign on to a closed Facebook group where they could chat about financial issues. The result? After only seven months, participation in the plan was up 5.8%; web use was up 5.4%; online statement access was up 12%; use of the retirement simulation tool was up 11.3%; and monthly visits spiked 24.4%. The logic? If a handful of employees are motivated by their retirement plan, they’ll be encouraged to spread the word, says Eric Filion, vice-president, development, marketing and investment strategies, group retirement savings, with Desjardins Insurance. “It’s the old jumping on the bandwagon approach.”

Augmented reality
In 1992, Tom Caudell coined the term augmented reality when he was working at Boeing on a project to make it easier to assemble large bundles of electric wire for aircraft on the factory floor.

On the record
The use of smartphones to keep track of personal and electronic medical records such as medications and immunizations is anything but new. According to Research2Guidance 2010, healthcare apps will be so pervasive by 2015 that it expects more than 500 million smartphone users will use apps on a regular basis. Earlier this year, for instance, Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D) created MyMedRec—a simple tool for keeping a list of prescription drugs, supplements and immunizations, and capable of being shared across different healthcare settings—which made it to the Top 10 list for free iPhone and iPad apps when it was downloaded by more than 8,000 Canadians and had more than 13,500 visitors to its bilingual .

Prescient media: Rx&D first provided a paper version of the medication record in 1994.

Standard features: Manages medications for multiple profiles; sends reminders to take medication and when to refill prescriptions; emails medication lists to healthcare teams; and supports complementary website and online tools.

Preferred provider GPS
In a hostile mobile learning environment, early adopters gain little benefit by watching others succeed. Which might explain why Sun Life Financial can boast of being first to market with a mobile app designed to help solve business challenges and medical issues. Since September 2011, a respectable 150,000 plan members have downloaded their claims submission app featuring instant claim adjudication. The carrier plans to raise the game this summer when it unveils a “provider search” capability. Using GPS technology, the app will show plan members where to get preferred pricing for prescribed drugs within a specified radius. A plan member in Vancouver, for instance, will be able to identify preferred providers at participating pharmacy chains. “Specialty drugs are typically representative of 20% of drug spend today and is increasing significantly year over year, yet it impacts only a very small percentage of people—about less than 1%,” says Wayne Millar, assistant vice-president, product development, with Sun Life. And it explains why mobile upgrades are part of a rationale for developing a relationship with pharmacies in order to shift market share to preferred providers.

In the offing: Drug lookup (for comparing prices of comparable drugs); 100% health and dental coverage lookup (for finding answers to Am I covered for orthotics? What’s the co-pay? Is there a deductible?); and medication adherence (for setting reminders to take your medication).

Assignment: Shaw Communications Inc. worked with Morneau Shepell to develop communication tools and configure its benefits portal to facilitate the rollout of the new CHOICES benefits plan and to service Shaw’s 15,000 employees.

Scope: The solution included a web app used to communicate the details of the new plan, an enrollment flow integrating decision support and health incentives, and an integrated online portal to maximize awareness of Shaw’s benefits program.

Milestone: More than 14,000 employees migrated to the portal from Nov. 5 to 16, 2012, and more than 97% of employees enrolled in the CHOICES plan.

Communications plan: The campaign kicked off with an email from the CEO directing employees to the intranet or portal to get started. Subsequent emails followed throughout the enrollment period. Best feature: Employees like the ability to call, email or e-chat to get their answers.

The proof is in the numbers: Shaw has averaged 30 e-chats per day since the administration program went live in November 2012.

Future functionality: Shaw would like to see the decision support tools be self-populated with the employee’s claim information. For example, if the employee chose the “comprehensive coverage” option last year, she could compare that with her actual benefits spend and, in turn, tailor individual health and dental choices to her specific needs.

In the offing: Morneau Shepell recently launched its myPlans Connect app in the iStore and is working with Shaw to add enrollment functionality for the fall.

Bookmark this
Homewood Human Solutions, a provider of employee and family assistance programs, organizational/employee wellness and disability management, has been on a social media kick ever since the release of its e-AP app last year. Its latest social offering taps Pinterest, a social utility that’s not usually associated with health promotion, research dissemination or behaviour change. Apart from compelling data visualization, Pinterest now allows businesses to target campaigns using a dashboard that provides analytics and insights into how people interact with pins. The bookmarking tool’s effectiveness builds on the idea that “while 20% of what is read is retained, more than 83% of learning occurs visually,” says Craig Thompson, CEO of Homewood. The provider regularly uses stimulating infographics and video to build awareness on mental health, addictions, disability management and workplace productivity.

Drive traffic: When you upload a picture from your computer to your Pinterest page, be sure to set the URL to link back to your home page so that each time visitors click on an image, it takes them back to your website. Double your chances of click-through by adding a URL in the description.

#hashtag was Word of the Year in 2012
Source: American Dialect Society

The term app was listed as Word of the Year in 2010
Source: American Dialect Society

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