Priority Health introduces smart phone app for members

June 4, 2010
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Priority Health could be the first in the health insurance industry to develop its own application for use on iPhone, BlackBerry and Android cell phones, Chief Marketing Officer Joan Budden said last week.

The application includes an image of the Priority Health identification card, real-time descriptions regarding co-pay charges and physician contact information. Members will be able to fax their cards from their smart phones to health care providers.

The iPhone app is expected to become available this month, followed by versions for BlackBerry and Android over the next several months. Members will be required to go through a one-time PIN set-up process. It will be a value-added option for individual and group members at no charge.

“I think we were early on this. I think the functionality on this, when it hits the App Store in a couple of weeks, probably is going to be the first in the country,” said Carl Erickson, president of Atomic Object, the Grand Rapids software developer at 941 Wealthy St. SE that created the “relatively simple app” for Priority Health. Erickson said the application that replaces the membership card in the wallet is just the beginning of the potential for smart phone applications for the Grand Rapids nonprofit.

“You’ve got to get people reaching for their smart phone instead of their wallet. Once you do that, then you get that critical mass of people. People will start asking for it and demanding it and expecting it, and that will drive more and more innovation,” Erickson said.

Budden said the app helps Priority Health stay relevant to the millennial generation, which is never without its cell phones.

“Our youngest members have the thought, ‘I don’t sit at any computer; I carry things around on my phone with me.’ We began to think, how do we make this immediately productive?” Budden said. “It just began to sink in with us that the iPhone, your Blackberry, your smart phone is almost replacing anything else that you usually would carry around.”

She said it took three months to complete the application. As of last week, Priority Health, headquartered at 1231 East Beltline Ave. NE, was waiting for Apple Inc.’s approval for the iPhone version. The app will be available for download from Priority Health’s website.

“We’re not aware of any other company that has done this,” Budden said.

The irony of developing a smart phone app that faxes isn’t lost on Atomic Object’s Erickson, whose company has worked with Priority Health for five years.

“There’s a really amusing irony here, in that we built this super-high tech, super-cool, mobile app for the member card, and one of the significant pieces of its functionality is the ability to fax an image of the paper card to the doctor’s office. You have this mobile app that is faxing something,” Erickson said, noting that many physician offices still rely on paper, including photocopies of insurance membership cards.

“Fax will never die, as it turns out,” he said.

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