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Comcast and Independence Health to partner on new health care platform

  • Comcast is teaming up with Independence Health Group to launch a new consumer-oriented health-care technology platform.
  • Independence Health is one of the nation's largest Blue Cross health insurers.
  • The partnership has grown out of the firms' work together on health initiatives in the Philadelphia area, where both companies are headquartered.
Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp.

Comcast is teaming up with one of the nation's largest Blue Cross health insurers, Independence Health Group, to launch a new consumer-oriented health-care technology platform.

"The way we're viewing it is as a digital health company," said Brian Lobley, president of commercial and consumer markets at the Independence Blue Cross division. "It's going to be a digital platform that is certainly going to be enabled via the TV, and the Comcast app, but [going] broader than both companies' existing footprint."

The partnership will be structured as a 50/50 joint venture, but will be run as an independent new firm. They plan to begin a pilot program of the platform in the Philadelphia area, where both companies are headquartered, with the hope of launching the new firm and then taking the platform national in the second half of 2019.

"We're going to start with people who are experiencing a health … condition or procedure," such as knee surgery, Lobley explained.

"There's pre-op, post-op recovery, during that time sometimes the patient is on a follow-up medication … what we're looking to do is take that experience, that itinerary that person follows and digitize it," he said.

Comcast is Independence's largest health insurance customer, but the two have also collaborated on local health initiatives. In February, they hosted early-stage health IT start-ups focused on value-based care and improving patient health outcomes.

"Independence is a company steeped in innovation and completely committed to the consumer experience," said Sam Schwartz, Comcast chief business development officer in announcing the deal. "We're excited about this new partnership and the opportunity to work together using technology to help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of patient communications and education."

Comcast is the parent of NBCUniversal and CNBC. As the nation's largest cable and broadband provider, it has worked with many of its health-care clients to offer added services, including a recent medically-approved healthy aging video series with UC Davis.

The new digital venture would be the media giant's first formal investment in the health-care business. It comes at a time when health insurers and hospitals are increasingly looking to technology to help boost patient satisfaction, as consumers and employers are pressing the industry to cut costs and make it easier to access care.

At the same time, tech firms like Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet's Google have looked to play a bigger role in the $3 trillion health market, with mixed success. Apple recently launched a collaboration with more than three dozen hospitals to help patients gain access to their medical records on their phones. But Amazon, after months of exploring getting into the pharmacy business, has found it too challenging to break into the health-care supply market, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The new Comcast-Independence joint venture plans to develop an open platform, which they hope will encourage firms like Amazon or other tech companies to plug in services and new features.

"We definitely think that (with) the assets that Amazon has -- they obviously know how to control a consumer experience -- there could be great synergies for us to have a solution that could complement their services," Lobley said.