Health insurance apps begin to hit their stride
By TL Andrews
If apps are the “new world” of commerce in Germany then the health app industry is the wild west. Its digital prairies are filled with hopeful prospectors searching for a place to stake their flags and make their billions while the going is still good. Until now most of those flags (over 7,500 apps in the categories “health” and “medical”) have belonged to startups that came riding onto the frontier with nothing more than a little venture capital and a glimmer in their eyes. But there are some new gun-slingers in town, state medical insurance companies, and they’re threatening to change where the boundary lines are drawn.
Historically, the small number of apps produced by state health insurance companies haven’t posed any real threat to the startups’ hegemony. According to the Prevent Partner Initiative only 60 apps have emerged from the 118 state health insurance companies currently in operation in Germany. And the few that are on the market are not that popular. Only one in ten of them ever reach more than 50,000 downloads.
But what they do have going for them is trustworthiness. As the number of apps on the market continues to increase well beyond the 100,000 mark, consumers are looking for ways to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Being associated with an organ of the state is certainly helpful when you want to stand out.
“When we produce, we do so to the highest quality standards,” says Daniel Wildner, a lead programmer at the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) health insurance. Wildner points out that many other apps on the market do not even adhere to German legal guidelines when it comes to data protection laws. “Our apps, on the other hand, are transparent. We include a list of our sources and we have an imprint [contact page] so people know how to contact us if they need help,” Wildner says. Many startups apps provide consumers with little recourse if they ever want to address a problem.
The TK has been producing apps since 2010. “We recognised the trend early and wanted to be among the first, “ Wildner says. They started out with informational apps that help users find a doctor or clinic in their neighbourhood. By 2015 the TK had successfully added health management applications that assist with specific ailments such as diabetes. The “TK diabetes diary app” prompts users to enter their blood sugar levels into the system in order to receive a graphical representation of their values over time. It also reminds users to test their blood and it enables them to send this data to their doctors via bluetooth.
Health insurance apps like these seem to be delivering on their promise of quality. One in four have received a rating of “very good” in the Google Play store. The most popular among them are: pregnancy monitors, doctor and clinic searches, diagnosis explainers and nutrition & disease prevention assistants.
As opposed to startups that often pop up overnight, health insurance companies have the added advantage of being able to use their long-standing reputation to enter into cooperations with reputable organisations. The TK recently produced an allergy app together with the University of Vienna and the Charite hospital in Berlin, for instance. The app, which has already been downloaded 60,000 times, makes it possible for users to develop an individualised allergy forecast based on the general pollen content in the air and their own personal allergenic profile.
In future Wildner says the TK plans to develop applications that streamline consumers’ interactions with the health insurance company itself. Bureaucratic processes like documenting a sick day will soon be integrated into the app.
With over 70 million people subscribed to state health insurance in Germany, there is massive potential for growth. If organisations like the TK can capitalise on their existing relationships with clients while consistently delivering high quality service, they could very well become the new sheriff in town.