As U.S. patients struggle to pay historically high out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses, Zest Health is on a quest to cure their healthcare headaches. The typical American now spends nearly 10% of his or her income on OOPs, nearly double the amount from a decade ago. To make matters worse, the average deductible has skyrocketed by 130% over the past 10 years, reaching an unprecedented $1,318 in 2015. (For more, see How High-Deductible Health Plans Work.)

Founded in 2013, Zest Health is a Chicago-based consumer-focused mobile health provider that, as its website explains, "serves self-insured employers, health plans and provider systems." Its goal is to help consumers make smarter, more cost-effective healthcare decisions. The company’s cloud-based platform, mobile apps and personalized concierge service give members access to critical benefit information, price transparency, healthcare consumption and telemedicine. “We know health care is expensive and confusing,” reads the Zest Health home page. “Through our Smart Concierge service and app, Zest Health gives you a new way to save money, develop meaningful engagement and enhance happiness.”

As of 2015 the Zest Health mobile platform had 50,000 members and 30 clients, including Chicago-based Presence Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. But how exactly does this mobile healthcare service help consumers save money? The company arms members with the data they need to intelligently navigate the healthcare system and make informed, price-conscious decisions.

Zest Health: Open 24/7

According to the company website, Zest Health employs a 24/7 team of nurses and benefits experts who help patients make smart healthcare decisions – all while saving them money. Through the company’s Smart Concierge app, members can connect with nurse practitioners any time of day or night, access telemedicine services and schedule appointments with in-network providers. This easy-to-use app is an integrated, “human-centric” concierge service that offers a wide variety of healthcare choices and customized options designed to meet each individual user’s needs.

Healthcare Bargain Hunting

While most consumers are more than willing to bargain-shop for everything from shoes to electronics, they don’t realize that they can and should do the same for healthcare services. After all, healthcare prices vary greatly from region to region. For instance, a Health Affairs study reports that a pregnancy ultrasound in Cleveland runs $522, but in nearby Canton, Ohio (only 60 miles away), the same procedure only costs $183.

Yet a mere 4% of patients considered cost comparisons when making their choice about whether or not to switch physicians, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine research survey. However, about half of those surveyed said they would use additional sources of healthcare pricing information.

This is where Zest Health comes into play. The company’s Smart Concierge app includes a medical-condition research tool and price comparisons, which enable members to shop around for the most cost-effective treatment. The app steers members to the most affordable and highest quality providers based on each patient’s network. According to the Zest Health blog, one member recently saved nearly $600 on a CT enterography thanks to his timely conversation with a Zest advisor.

Considering that Americans now spend a total of $3.3 trillion per year on healthcare, it pays to shop around for reasonably priced treatment. “Zest Health’s technology is transforming the way people use their healthcare,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, in a press release. “By providing access to information and resources to help them make better, more cost-effective healthcare decisions, we are bringing healthcare closer to people and helping lower costs, even as healthcare costs continue to rise. This is a transformational achievement in the increasingly complex and cost-prohibitive healthcare industry.”

The Bottom Line

One quarter of U.S. employees now have high-deductible health plans, which cost families an average of $4,332 per year. What's more, the average price of premiums has mushroomed by 60%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund.

As healthcare costs continue to climb, cash-strapped consumers will rely more heavily on tools to help them make informed, cost-effective decisions. This is exactly what Zest Health provides through its Smart Concierge app. (For more tools that do this, see Apps That Find the Cheapest Drug Prices.) Members who take the time to use the services to locate the best prices will have a better shot at reducing what they spend on healthcare.

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