Aetna's chief digital officer: 'Insurance will change dramatically'

Just over two years ago, Aetna hired Firdaus Bhathena as chief digital officer to lead the health insurer's technology strategy.

Mr. Bhathena, a startup veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the field, told Becker's Hospital Review he's excited about Aetna's software production.

"It's not often you get to build technology and solutions to enable members to lead healthier lives," he said.

Here, Mr. Bhathena answers three questions for Becker's on the future of health insurance and Aetna's technology strategy.

Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length

Question: How will insurance signup look in the future?

Firdaus Bhathena: The biggest change will be a shift in focus to open enrollment. The future is going to be more like, "Here are the kinds of experiences we're going to enable. What do you need?" People are going to be given a lot more choice and incentive to engage in healthcare experiences that are more effective and less expensive.

We won't always get this right, but we'll double down on what's working. Our push is to take the work our data science team does and bring it to life.

Q: How will artificial intelligence, telemedicine and connected devices drive change in healthcare?

FB: Healthcare needs to be high value and easy to use. My wife is a pediatrician in Boston. In the summer, Lyme disease is a big concern for her patients. She gets a lot of texts with pictures with captions like, "I saw this black dot. Can you tell me if this is a deer tick?" and "Should I take my child to the ER?" She does her best to help them out and give them advice.

In my opinion, we're not going to be doing that for much longer. Fast forward: AI and deep learning will do that initial triage for us. A patient will open up their health app and send a picture through that. If patients have further questions after the app determines a diagnosis, they can initiate a virtual care visit with a provider.

Q: What is the future role of the payer?

FB: I think insurance as a standalone business will change dramatically. The key is being there to assist a member when they're having a healthcare issue.

It's about moving healthcare to the kitchen table. In that vein, Aetna is transitioning to a health and wellness partner for our members. The only way we're going to bend cost curves is by partnering with consumers. That means not just being there when they break their leg. What we do for members on a day-to-day basis can keep them out of high-cost categories, like ER visits.

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