The two latest investments from Cigna continue a trend in the insurance industry of funding virtual healthcare tools to cut costs and expand access

Cigna Ventures helped fund the technologies in the hope they'll enhance its own healthcare offering (Credit: PxHere)

American health insurer Cigna has announced two new investments in healthcare start-ups to enhance the way it delivers virtual healthcare services.

The firm led a $12m funding round in RecoveryOne — a company that offers a lower-cost alternative to physical therapy for musculoskeletal issues — as well as contributing to the $20m raised by AI-driven healthcare advice platform Buoy Health.

The investments were made by Cigna Ventures, a subsidiary of the company focused on funding technology to contribute to its market strategy, which revolves around providing virtual healthcare options.

Cigna global lead for strategy and business development Tom Richards said: “Cigna is squarely focused on bringing the highest value solutions to our customers, which includes optimizing how they connect to and receive quality care, in a convenient way that meets their lifestyles.

cigna healthcare
Cigna global lead for strategy and business development Tom Richards (Credit: Cigna)

“Our deep partnerships with digital health companies like Buoy Health and RecoveryOne accelerate how we deliver on that promise.

“They, like us, are relentlessly pursuing bold new opportunities to make healthcare anywhere and everywhere a reality for our customers.”


Buoy Health uses AI to decipher severity of symptoms

Buoy Health uses AI algorithms to compete with online symptom checker websites such as WebMD and Healthline, incorporating a chatbot that asks questions to drill down on possible causes of an illness and advise users on what to do next based on the severity of their issue.

CEO and co-founder Dr Andrew Le said: “Our capabilities, powered by advanced machine learning and granular data, resemble exchanges an individual would have with a clinician.

“Our first-step virtual option greatly aligns with Cigna’s focus on creating peace of mind – improving diagnoses of symptoms from the moment individuals get sick and helping facilitate more informed discussions with their clinicians.”


RecoveryOne gives virtual alternative to physical therapy

RecoveryOne draws upon 180 evidence-based recovery pathways for musculoskeletal issues — injuries incurred to muscles, bones and joints.

Formerly named Trainer RX, the company partners with healthcare service providers to gain insight into the extent of a user’s injury and tailor their recovery programme to each individual.

Patients can also give feedback on how difficult the exercises are, with the platform adjusting these to present more or less challenge in line with the responses.

CEO Mark Luck Olson said: “Musculoskeletal conditions are both common and costly.

“We are excited to work with Cigna, one of the largest and most forward-thinking global health services companies, to leverage our digital solutions in ways that will drive greater adherence, accelerate recovery, improve productivity and reduce costs for individuals.”


New investments part of long-term strategy and virtual care trend

Cigna Ventures launched a $250m fund to invest in start-ups in late 2018.

RecoveryOne and Buoy Health mark the latest in a string of investments from the company, including fellow AI tool Arcadia, which analyses data through partnerships with electronic health record companies to establish the key indicators for value-based care — a healthcare service model where providers are paid based on patient outcomes.

These investments are also part of a wider industry trend towards virtual care made to widen the access and affordability patients have, while also cutting costs for health insurance providers.

An example is Cigna’s major competitor in the US, UnitedHealthcare, which announced in October 2019 it would allow 4 million Medicare Advantage members to remotely connect with a care provider in 2020 for minor health issues or behavioral health support.