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United Health Jumps Into Consumer Fray

by John Moore | December 01, 2008

Being the nation’s largest heatlhcare insurer, it was only a matter of time before United Health Group (UNH) jumped into the fray of providing a consumer-centric healthcare website, which they announced this morning, myOptumHealth.com.  This follows similar moves by competitors CIGNA (finally coming on-board), Wellpoint (who seems to be adrift) and Aetna, (leader fo the pack) who introduced their SmartSource solution earlier this year and announced in October that they would allow members to export their claims data to HealthVault.

But there is an important twist with the UNH announcement.  This is a straight consumer play and will go in direct competition to existing players such as WebMD, Yahoo Health, and Waterfront Media (who recently merged with the now defunct RevolutionHealth). This is a big departure from its traditional competitors, other health insurers, whose initiatives have focused strictly on their existing members (the right-hand side of the slide below).


Looking more closely though the basic myOptumHealth is not all that new, nor is the business model as this is as much a rebranding of their consumer-facing PHR which they acquired a couple of years back, Health AtoZ.  The HealthAtoZ PHR is a pretty decent solution that received high ratings in a number of categories in the iPHR Market Report that Chilmark Research published earlier this year.

It is also clear, however, that the OptumHealth Group at UNH have significantly built upon HealthAtoZ via a number of partnerships which are as follows:

  • A.D.A.M. – Providing interactive health slide shows.
  • HealthDay News – a daily health news service that a consumer may subscribe to.  Does not appear to support customization.
  • Healthline – Health-related search engine.
  • Healthology – Providing some 600 health streaming videos. Note that iVillage, the company that acquired Healthology for $17.5M, has taken steps in 2008 to trim costs that has lead to little “new” content. Tried one of the videos, not a user-friendly experience. Not the best partner to choose, but I bet the price was right.
  • Healthwise – Health content in Spanish for Hispanic population.  Healthwise is quite pervasive as a partner for health content on a number of health insurer sites.
  • Multum – Medication information including interaction checker, alerts and approvals. Multum is a Cerner product.

The site also has a doctor finder that uses the Igenix solution, a company UNH acquired several years ago.  Did a quick search on the finder, pretty poor as it was slow, provided few specialties to choose from and gave only the most basic info on a given physician.

In 2009, OptumHealth plans to roll-out specific health/disease-centric communitites similar to the one they launched earlier this year, my CancerHub.  Based on a cursory review of myCancerHub, other sites such as MedHelp and PatientsLikeMe need not worry as myCancerHub discussions are ancient (most recent posting, 3 months ago!).

Note, that in addition to this announcement, we have received information that UNH, through its OptumHealth Group is working with all three personal health platform (PHP) plays, Dossia, Google Health and HealthVault in support of portability for claims data.


Interesting and novel push by UNH into the direct to consumer (D2C) market.  Yes, consumerism is coming into healthcare with consumers increasingly looking to the Web for information that helps them manage their health and/or the health of loved ones.  It is good to see a health insurer openly acknowledge this trend and move in a direction to not only assist their members, but support the broader market as well.

It is also apparent that WebMD and others are not the only ones seeing some healthy advertising revenue opportunities in the health & wellness sector. Yet, beyond this obvious revenue source, UNH will be able to leverage myOptumHealth for effective cross-promotion of other UNH services such as health coaching, vision & dental insurance, life insurance, and health-related financial services.

As with all these sites though (myCancerHub is a clear example), the big question remains: If you build it, will they come?  It takes far more than a press release and a collection of partners to gain traction in what is becoming a crowded market.  It will take some pretty hefty marketing spend. That doesn’t mean you have to advertise during the SuperBowl, but it will require investment and it is unclear just how much OptumHealth is willing to invest. Based on partners chosen and features out of the box, looks like they are not investing at the level they will need to to become a serious player in the D2C healthcare market..

It also remains to be seen how consumers will respond to a site sponsored by a health plan.  Sure, they may go there to collect basic health & wellness information, but will they use a health plan’s PHR if they are not a member?  First, it is exceedingly rare that a consumer is willing to populate any PHR on their own, let alone one from an insurer, as it raises all sorts of fears of future denial of claims.  Secondly, will consumers trust OptumHealth with this data?  Looking at myOptumHealth’s privacy and security statement (in the PHR section), while clear and straight-forward, it says nothing about how such data might be used.  In other words, there is no clear statement saying: No we will never use your data without your expressed consent. That definitely puts the brakes on for us.


A: for initiative and risk taking

C-: for execution

F: for privacy policy (or lack thereof)

4 responses to “United Health Jumps Into Consumer Fray”

  1. […] United Health Jumps Into Consumer Fray (ChilMark Research) […]

  2. […] 2, 2008 by John Yesterday, we did a post on United Health Group’s new consumer initiative myOptumHealth commenting on how they have joined what is becoming an increasingly crowded market of look alike […]

  3. greencard says:

    Is there any information about this subject in other languages?

  4. […] 30, 2008 by John Seemingly on a roll, OptumHealth, the consumer facing health and wellness division of United Health Group (UHG), the nation’s […]

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