Fierce Q&A: HCSC's new app shifts prenatal support to dads


Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) always seems to be on the cutting edge of technology. From various Twitter campaigns to a strong social media presence to multiple mobile app offerings, HCSC, which owns several Blues plans across the country, is a leader in the industry.

Its latest creation is Duty Calls, a mobile app that helps expectant dads encourage and support their wives throughout the pregnancy process. Launched in August, the app serves as a virtual pregnancy personal assistant, providing dads with to-do lists, updated pregnancy developments, and simple ways to capture and share pregnancy milestones.

To learn more about this innovative new app, plus gain insight into HCSC's mobile strategy, FierceHealthPayer spoke with Paul Nutting (pictured), senior director of electronic commerce for HCSC.

FierceHealthPayer: What motivated HCSC to develop the Duty Calls app?

Paul Nutting: Because the way we communicate is constantly changing and evolving, we want to provide our members' health information in a variety of ways--through mobile devices, for example--so they can gravitate to what appeals to them. While in the process of researching how we could use technology to help moms during the prenatal process, both moms and medical experts agreed that dad's involvement during pregnancy is extremely important.

However, most dads felt they lacked resources to understand how to participate and often feel overwhelmed by pregnancy. I looked back at the birth of my own children and realized this was definitely the case for me. This motivated us to shift our focus and create an app to help dads stay engaged with their partner throughout pregnancy.

Anything that HCSC develops for our members starts with research. We actively engage in ongoing research to uncover unmet needs related to the health and wellness of our members or health insurance in general. Our goal for Duty Calls was to create a simple, easy to use app for dads to obtain the information they need to be organized and prepared for everything that comes with pregnancy and childbirth. The challenge was finding a way to obtain the right customer insight and design a solution that would simplify the complexities of the prenatal process.

FHP: How is HCSC reaching out to consumers to let them know this app is now available?

Nutting: Duty Calls is available to everyone, not just our members. For our members, we will promote it through our "Special Beginnings®" maternity program, which provides expectant members support and education, risk factor identification and ongoing communication/monitoring from experienced program staff. Additionally, we're reaching out to consumers via interactions on social media and through partnerships with organizations focused on healthy pregnancy. We often use our Facebook and Twitter pages to generate awareness for all of the health and wellness tools we offer. We have and will continue to periodically create posts to remind consumers that Duty Calls is free and available for download. 

FHP: Are you working with any organizations to help you spread the word about this app? What steps are these organizations taking?

Nutting: We're creating marketing materials to promote the app and will provide materials to a wide variety of organizations including physicians and hospitals. We hope that by educating doctors, they will recommend the app to their patients. We also have a partnership with text4baby, a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health, to help promote the app. 

FHP: How is HCSC planning on motivating consumers to download the app once they know it exists?

Nutting: We typically find that dads are already motivated to support their partners during pregnancy. What they need is help navigating the available resources to get to the important information and that's what Duty Calls does. Our hope is that once consumers learn there is an app that simplifies the information gathering process and will help keep dad organized and informed that will be motivation enough to download it.  

FHP: Will HCSC benefit from consumers' use of the Duty Calls app? What is the real driver behind creating and maintaining such a product?

Nutting: Duty Calls is free to everyone and HCSC won't receive any data on who is using it. We have no plans to quantify any financial value, nor will it generate any revenue. We believe that when we do things that will help improve the health of our members and our communities, it will ultimately benefit HCSC down the road. Increasing dad's ability to support mom during pregnancy will ultimately lead to healthier pregnancies. If that happens, it's a win for everyone--both the family and HCSC.

FHP: Does HCSC have a dedicated team responsible for new products like apps and, if so, what kind of prep work is needed before an idea comes to market?

Nutting: HCSC does have a dedicated team focused on building mobile capabilities and products. Part of what that team does is test the app with customers throughout the development process. We use our customer feedback to enhance the design, content and capabilities of the app to make sure we are meeting the needs of the end user. Now that the app is available to the public, we will continue to engage users for feedback to make enhancements.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.