Microsoft Azure Cloud Platform Powers EmblemHealth Mobile Apps

New York-based insurer EmblemHealth is using Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform to build apps that allow patients to locate flu shot providers and retrieve temporary health plan IDs.

Insurance company EmblemHealth, which offers the HIP Health Plan of NY and GHI (Group Health Incorporated) to 2.9 million people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, has built several mobile health applications using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform.

Azure allows companies to build, host and scale applications while storing data in Microsoft's data centers.

"EmblemHealth is using the Windows Azure platform to host various types of data, which, via the Windows Phone 7 development system, can be easily and quickly accessed through the development of new health apps for the phone, PC or other devices," Dennis Schmuland, Microsoft's worldwide managing director for health insurance industry, wrote in a blog post.

The insurer uses a "blended cloud approach," according to Schmuland. "As security and privacy are paramount, it hosts its patient data onsite in a secure, encrypted database but still leverages the cloud to both build its mobile applications and deliver member information securely to users' mobile devices."

The health plan provider uses a private cloud to store patients' data for HIEs (health information exchanges) but draws on the Azure platform for its mobile health apps to make more general health data available, John Steber, executive vice president and CIO for EmblemHealth, told eWEEK.

"Specific to Azure, at this point we're using Microsoft's platform to store relatively generic information like pharmacy address data as well as flu shot availability data," Robert Branchini, vice president of information technology for EmblemHealth, told eWEEK.

The company is also using the geosearch capabilities and integrating GPS searches of data on the Azure platform and Windows 7 mobile platform, according to Branchini. With EmblemHealth's Flu Shot Finder, New York City residents can search for pharmacies offering the flu vaccine.

Meanwhile, the GetMyID mobile app retrieves a temporary health plan insurance card from EmblemHealth's database and allows patients to email the information to a provider. EmblemHealth may update the application in the future to offer caregap alerts, particularly when patients go for lab tests and need to maintain continuity of care and benefits, Branchini said.

"For us, the real goal was to address authentication, and I think we did that with this initial application of GetMyID," he added. He compared printing out a temporary ID in the EmblemHealth app to accessing boarding passes on airline Websites.

Both the Flu Shot Finder and GetMyID apps are available only on the Windows Phone 7 platform, though patients can access their temporary ID cards from EmblemHealth's Website on Google Android, Apple iOS and RIM BlackBerry devices, Branchini said.

Another application, ProviderID, uses GPS to deliver information on providers.

The company aims for consistency in what users see on mobile devices compared with viewing a Website on a PC, Branchini said.

For the future, EmblemHealth is looking at ways to connect its subscribers with health-monitoring tools so they can track their data and integrate it with the cloud on the Azure platform, Branchini said.

Although EmblemHealth has designed initial applications such as Flu Shot Finder and GetMyID for Windows Phone 7, the company aims to make them available on all platforms, including Android, BlackBerry and Apple iOS. "A lot of the things we're rolling out now, we started these on a Microsoft platform, but that isn't good enough as we move forward," Steber said.

"The other applications we've built and that we'll build in the future will be rendered to all of the various devices," added Branchini.