Mar 122008

Victoria Colliver writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Aetna Inc. is offering its members a new online search tool that connects to easy-to-understand articles, local doctors who specialize in their needs, as well as cost information based on their personal health record and benefits.

The service is a result of a partnership with Healthline Networks, a San Francisco health-technology company that develops software to navigate health searches.


Unlike most other personal health records, Aetna’s service will not require patients to fill in all their health details because much of that information can be culled from the insurer’s claims history. The search engine – called Aetna SmartSource – mines data on Aetna’s site to present members with relevant results based on the terms they searched, personal profile, benefit plan and other information.

“The carrier already has your health data, so there’s not an issue of some third party mining for information they might use against you,” said Greg Sterling, analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence in San Francisco.

While privacy is always a concern when putting sensitive health information online, Aetna, as a health insurer, is required to comply with federal health privacy laws that do not apply to companies such as Microsoft and Google, Sterling said.

Aetna officials said they would not sell or share data, target ads at consumers based on their search history or use any information from medical searches against a member.

“We have claims information on people from day one. That information is between Aetna and the insured and is not used at all,” said John Bahl, head of online product design for Aetna. “We’ve got this information, and we think we could do a better job in presenting our resources to our members when they need them.”

Under Healthline and Aetna’s agreement, the insurer licenses Healthline’s software, which translates medical language into more easily understood terms and delivers a customized search. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The new service is already being tested by the insurer’s 30,000 employees and will be expanded to as many as 2 million customers by the end of this year as part of a pilot program. Ultimately, the company said, it will be available to its 16.8 million members nationwide.

Full story – San Francisco Chronicle

Update 1: Some additional resources on Aetna’s program:

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