Healthcare is a key sector of the insurance industry – so what are the implications of the boom in interest in ‘digital health’ solutions that the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered worldwide?
With its stated aim of using interconnected technologies to increase the efficiency and personalisation of healthcare and medicine and provide better, more accessible and more efficient care solutions for all, it’s increasingly obvious that digital health is the new frontier of healthcare. Drawing on a vast range of technologies running from artificial intelligence, smart devices and web-based analysis to phone apps, wearable devices and remote monitoring sensors, digital health’s best-known face is probably telemedicine, the provision of health services via electronic technologies which allow the long-distance diagnosis, care and monitoring of patients. In recent years, telemedicine – which studies point to as a cost-effective solution that allows reductions in consultation time and mortality rates – has grown into a $45 billion market worldwide, with experts predicting that in five years’ time it will be worth more than $175 billion.
The lockdowns, social distancing and isolating measures which followed the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated the speed with which digital health and telemedicine solutions are being adopted. The Politecnico di Milano’s ‘Digital Innovation in Health’ Observatory reports that in addition to the 13% of general practitioners and 23% of medical specialists who were already using digital health tools before the appearance of Covid-19 and who intend to continue to do so, up to 56% and 37% respectively of health care professionals who had never used them before have said that since adopting them in recent months they will continue use them in the future.
The health sector is one of the three biggest areas of the insurance industry, so what does all this mean for the insurance business?
Digital health is a golden opportunity for health insurance companies to play a pivotal role in an epochal healthcare transformation. The number of health insurers are beginning to offer their clients digital health services is growing, but the industry’s response varies greatly depending upon the willingness of individual companies are to engage with these innovative new technologies. Forward looking companies are already getting involved: for example AXA’s partnerships with Oscar Health, a technology-driven health insurance company with a focus on telemedicine, and H4D, a clinical telemedicine company specialising in remote consulting booths, mutual Matmut’s partnership with telemedicine startup Medaviz or Generali’s ‘Vitality’, a health and wellness app designed to encourage a healthier lifestyle and offering discounts on, for example, sportswear and wearables.
To achieve their potential, the adoption and integration of digital health strategies across the entire health insurance system is vital, as vast amounts of data are needed to train artificial intelligence algorithms to better predict and prevent disease. To feel comfortable sharing this personal information, clients will need to see the benefits and be reassured that their personal data is safe, which means that companies offering high-quality, technologically sophisticated products, a consumer-centric approach and premium cybersecurity will be at an advantage. And that means investing in robust data strategies and carefully selecting technology partners.
For the insurance industry to obtain a competitive advantage in the field of digital health, it must first be properly understood, adopted and managed. The sooner insurance companies commit to engaging with the technologies behind digital health, the sooner they will be able to start offering their customers the products they increasingly are demanding.