Every year, there are innovators who come up with fresh solutions to nagging problems. Companies roll out new products or services, or improve on old ones. Researchers propose better theories to explain the world. Or stuff that’s been flying under the radar finally captivates a wide audience. For Money’s annual Best New Ideas list, our writers searched the world of money for the most compelling products, strategies, and insights of 2014. To make the list, these ideas—which cover the world of technology, investing, retirement, college, and more—have to be more than novel. They have to help you save money, make money, or improve the way you spend it, like these four health care innovations.
The Best New Health Care Tool: Your Smartphone
The smartphone in your pocket can help you count your steps or calories. But the phone’s potential is far greater, says Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Research Institute. Diabetics can connect an IGBStar glucose meter to their phone and share blood-sugar info with their doctor; other apps let heart patients record their EKGs. (The Health app built into the iPhone operating system can integrate much of this data.) And the giant health system Kaiser Permanente now offers members a mobile app to access medical records.
Best State Law the Other 49 Should Adopt—Stat: Health Care Price Transparency
Employers and insurers are making you foot more of your health care bills in the hope you’ll pay more attention to the bottom line—and even seek out less expensive care. That’s one reason the average deductible now tops $1,200.
The problem: How can you shop around when you can’t find out what doctors and hospitals charge?
The breakthrough: Massachusetts has become the first state to require hospitals, physicians, and insurers to share price estimates. As of October, residents can go online and compare costs—especially helpful for screenings, lab work, and other straightforward care you can plan for in advance. With in-network prices varying by as much as 300%, the payoff for doing homework can be big.
The workaround: If you live in any other state, your best bet is to check out your insurer’s website, which often lists what you’ll pay for routine services like MRIs in-network. At Healthcarebluebook.com you can see what insurers pay in-network providers for a particular service in your area.
Best New Way to Help Emergency Workers Help You
When you need serious medical help fast, you can aid doctors and emergency workers by filling out Apple’s new Medical ID feature, available with iOS 8. You enter potentially life-saving information, such as conditions you have, medications you take, and your blood type, as well as emergency contact information and whether you’re an organ donor. The information can be pulled up on your phone—without your four-digit passcode—by tapping the Emergency button. Fill it out, then hope you’ll never need to use it.
Best Backup to Help You Talk to Your Doctor
You’ve done this: You feel weird, so you Google your symptoms—and diagnose yourself with something awful. A new web tool called Isabel can give you a clearer view. Based on a tool already used by more than 100 U.S. hospitals and doctors’ offices, Isabel asks you to input your symptoms, and then draws on medical research to produce a list of possible conditions. (Its database is far deeper than other popular symptom checkers’.) Isabel understands layman’s terms like ”stomach ache” and tells you which diagnoses are common vs. rare. Isabel can’t replace your doctor, says founder Jason Maude (who tells the story of the site’s founding in the video below). But the site can help you pose better questions about tests and treatments—crucial now that you’re being asked to shoulder more of your health care costs.