Castlight Launches Health Care Shopping Tool for iOS, Android

With Castlight's new mobile tool, companies can give their employees access to real-time info on the best prices for medical services in their health plans.

As the Supreme Court examined the constitutionality of the Obama administration's health care reform, software as a service (SaaS) provider Castlight Health launched a mobile version of its personalized health care shopping tool for Apple iOS and Google Android devices. The company also offers a mobile Web version optimized for RIM BlackBerry smartphones.

Launched March 28, the tool allows employees of companies to connect to a Web-based portal and research prices for doctors and medical procedures. The service tracks their progress as they use health benefits and meet deductibles.

"Castlight is designed to help the [corporate] buyers of health care and their employees get the best value for their money," Ethan Prater, vice president of products at Castlight, told eWEEK.

Todd Park, the newly named U.S. chief technology officer, co-founded Castlight in 2008. Park left the company when he was named CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Giovanni Colella, Castlight's current president and CEO, also founded the company along with Dr. Bryan Roberts, a partner in venture capital firm Venrock.

Castlight was named No. 1 on The Wall Street Journal's "Top 50 Venture-Backed Companies" for 2011.

By offering the app, Castlight aims to make health care costs more transparent.

"While health care reform is a key polarizing issue for the American public, one aspect both sides of the aisle agree on is creating more informed and healthy Americans through increased transparency into the cost and quality of health care," said Prater.

Users can sign on to Castlight's service to personalize their searches for health services in their plans based on out-of-pocket costs, deductibles and quality. "The personalization aspect is showing what the employer pays and what you pay," said Prater.

A graphical display shows the amount of benefits patients have used up, including how far along they are in meeting deductibles.

The app also allows users to get pricing on lab tests according to their health plans. For example, a colonoscopy could cost $600 or $4,800, depending on negotiated rates, said Prater, adding that users may be unaware of these price differences. "When they're on a high-deductible plan, it's important to know that," he said.

Algorithms and data analytics in the apps allow users to search according to their medical needs, location and deductible levels. The algorithms data-mine a massive amount of claims and provider rate tables to come up with personalized info on pricing, said Prater, with logic applied to the searches in real time. He compared the comparison-shopping functionality of Castlight to an online shopping site for books or travel.

The tool uses the 270/271 benefits eligibility system established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to make the status of patients' health benefits available in real time, Prater explained. It indicates how much of their deductibles patients have met, what their co-pays are and whether they're required to pay co-insurance.

Like the iTriage app Aetna relaunched March 5, Castlight's app lets users search for providers and urgent care centers. (iTriage is also focused on understanding health symptoms.)

In Castlight's app, geolocation features enable users to search for urgent care centers and labs. It also provides customer ratings on providers' services, which are mostly in-network. The tool could be helpful for users on the go who need to find a lab center after seeing their primary care provider, Prater noted.

Patients can access provider ratings on areas such as follow-up, amount of time spent with patient, bedside manner, accuracy of diagnoses and ease of appointment scheduling. They can then call the provider from the app and get directions.

Other price-comparison tools have launched to help people keep their medical costs down. On Jan. 25, LowestMed introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to compare drug prices at pharmacies. LowestMed shows prices at major pharmacy chains, and the company's Website offers info on mom-and-pop drugstores as well.