Modularity and a Health Insurance App

Jalyn Marks

“According to some estimates, as many as 3 million students are covered through student health plans offered by colleges, universities, or other institutions of higher education. ” (Student Health Plans)

Each year, more and more graduate students have health insurance (Bauer-Wolf). Georgetown students have the option to purchase health insurance. The school partners with UnitedHealthcare, which has a dedicated website and app just for students: UnitedHealthcare StudentResources (UHSR). For a case study on modularity, or how systems have “interconnected subcomponents” (Irvine 1) whose architecture, systems, and standards (Langlois 22-23) work together to produce the desired effect of the design, I am going to use the UHSR iPhone app.

The UHSR app is an interesting case study because of the interplay between information contained  within the app, information housed by the users’ medical practitioners, information that the users generally accept to be true about the function of their bodies, and legal and social understandings of what it means to be healthy or sick in the United States. Including all of this nested information aims to encapsulate (Irvine 2) users’ health experiences and resources.

After logging in to the UHSR app, users are directed toward a Dashboard. The user’s name is displayed, along with their student IDs and email address. Options for where to go next include a “Need Care?” section, “Contact Us” section, a commonly used cog-icon to represent settings, and a”My Profile – view your profile” featured prominently in the middle of the page.

UHSR Dashboard

After logging in, students who use the UHSR app are navigated to this page.















Since I’m concerned with students accessing health services, I’m going to click on the “Need Care?” section, linked to an icon of a plus sign with a circle around it.

UHSR Need Care Section

In this section, users can select: Not Sure Where to Go?, Healthcare Provider, Mental Health Provider, Telehealth Medical, Telehealth Behavioral, and Student Assistance.















Language included on this page, like “telehealth” and “behavioral” assumes users share a definition for these terms. The language does attempt to be colloquial, including the interrogative question, “Not sure where to go?” which is fairly engaging. Each option includes an icon, a title and subtitle, and an arrow, which relies on the assumption that users are familiar with smartphones and know to click the arrow in order to progress to the next desired page.

If I wanted to find a doctor–any kind except one who specialized in mental health services–I’d click on the Find Provider section. This section implements a search feature, which includes some drop-down menus, autofill-technology, and GPS, where users can find doctors based on their specialty (assuming that users know what kind of specialist they need to find) and location.

UHSR Find Provider Section

UHSR users can look for doctors using metadata.














If a UHSR user needs to access a doctor immediately, there is a telehealth option. Tools nested into this design include accessing the phone’s calling feature or dial pad.

UHSR Telehealth Medical Page

UHSR users can call telehealth doctors 24/7.














Under Settings, UHSR users can select various options related to the legal information provided by UnitedHealthcare, including accessibility, privacy policy, terms of use, and the end user license agreement. None of these things are directly related to accessing health services, but are important context used to define the overall insurance system.

UHSR Settings Menu

Users of the UHSR app can access various legal documents under the Settings Menu.















The nested structure here is a connection to the phone’s web app, like Chrome or Safari. Once you click on the arrow, the UHSR user is navigated to a weblink.

UHSR Access Statement

The UHSR app’s access statement is a link to an external webpage, outside of the app.














Some additional thoughts on modularization and accessibility:

  • I am not a blind user, so I do not know how this app would engage with a screen reader. As a health insurance company, I would prioritize make sure my app could interface smoothly with accessible technology (AT) like screen readers (Screen Readers).
  • Since “modularity also informs recent theory on the philosophy of mind” (Irvine 3), apps–especially health-related ones–should be designed to meet the needs of non-neurotypical users, like autistic users, whose theory of mind might be different (Kapp and Ne’eman).

Works Cited

Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. Obamacare Has Led to Fewer Uninsured Students, Study Finds, Inside Higher Ed, 30 Mar. 2018,

Kapp, Steven and Ari Ne’eman. “ASD in DSM-5: What the Research Shows and Recommendations for Change.” Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2012.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers.” Unpublished.

Langlois, Richard N. “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, vol. 49. no. 1, 2002: pp. 19-26.

Screen Readers, American Foundation for the Blind, 2020,

Student Health Plans, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,