Technology is transforming healthcare delivery with everything from artificial intelligence to virtual GPs supporting employees’ health and wellbeing.
And, after years of lagging the UK’s domestic insurers, the international medical insurers are catching up.
A number of obstacles have stood in their way. Multiple healthcare systems and a patchwork of legal requirements can make a global solution tricky, but Rachel Western, principal at Aon Employee Benefits, says the international insurers have also been under less pressure to embrace technology. “UK insurers have been bolting value added services to their plans to offset premium increases but this is only beginning to affect the international market,” she explains. “As a result, we’re starting to see much more innovation.”
Taking care of the basics
Apps are now commonplace across the international space, with most insurers already offering something or planning a launch. “Apps remove the challenge of distance,” says Paul Tidy, chief operating officer at Generali Global Health. “No matter how remote their location, an employee can use the app to carry out a variety of self-service functions such as finding a local healthcare provider or contacting their insurer.”
The services available through apps are getting smarter too. For example, Allianz Care offers a claims function on its app. Members simply input the information and send a photograph of the invoice, with this processed within 48 hours and the money paid into their bank account in the next few days.
Alexis Obligi, chief sales and development officer for international health at Allianz Care, says this meets growing customer expectations. “People increasingly want fast turnaround times and to be treated as efficiently as possible. They also want consistency’ so we’ve developed a claims adjudication engine behind the app to ensure our rules are enforced the same way every time.”
Telemedicine services such as virtual GPs are also being rolled out. Stephen Hackett, director of employee benefits at Broadstone Corporate Benefits, expects these services to become a standard part of every insurers’ international package in the next few years. “They offer benefits to all parties,” he explains. “For employees, it’s really convenient, which is helping to drive trust, while for employers and insurers, there are cost savings that can make cover more sustainable.”
As well as providing access to aGPbyphoneorvideocallata time that’s convenient and in a range of different languages, many also include prescription services, depending on the regulation in the region. Dr Sneh Khemka, vice president, population health at Aetna International, says it’s possible to take this further too. “If someone needs a blood test, we’ll send a healthcare professional to do this. If they need an x-ray, we’ll book them a taxi. It delights the customer but it also helps to manage medical costs.”
Statistics from his service demonstrate this. More than half of the people who use the service get their health issue resolved without needing further intervention. This results in a 43 per cent reduction in outpatient costs.
Improving health and wellbeing
Following the lead set by the UK’s domestic insurers, the international providers are beginning to use technology to focus more on preventative health and wellbeing services too. Among those offering apps in this space are Generali, which has its Bria app, and Cigna Europe, which launched Cigna Wellbeing in September.
Liam Hughes, European sales and client management director at Cigna Europe, explains that the app, which combines a virtual GP service with real-time health and wellness coaching, addresses the challenges globally mobile workers face accessing healthcare. “Our lifestyle management programme is designed to educate, engage and motivate employees so they can become more involved in their own care,” he explains. “This could be talking to a GP or other health professional to arrange appropriate treatment or manage a chronic condition, to accessing information such as recipe and diet sheets to help them lead a healthier lifestyle.”
Integrating these apps with other data sources is also becoming more common. For instance, Generali’s Bria can hook up with more than 1,000 different health and activity trackers to personalise the coaching that employees receive.
Aetna is also active in this space, with a health coaching app in India that can be synched with other apps to provide diet advice. “This type of technology could be used to help people improve their health but also for disease management,” says Dr Khemka. “By linking it to a blood sugar machine, someone could manage their diabetes more effectively.”
Targeting health interventions
Insurers are also exploring how technology can be used to identify, and target, potential problems across a workforce, with Cigna including a health risk assessment on its app. The information this generates can then be provided to the employer to help shape their health and wellbeing strategy.
For an employer with staff working overseas, this insight could be really useful, helping to pinpoint any emerging health issues that may be specific to the location. But, while this is a standard piece of management information in the UK market, the need for anonymity can be a challenge for many employers with an expat workforce. Unless there are sufficient employees based in a location, they’ll be lumped in with other cohorts.
Western says this shouldn’t deter insurers from using this data. “Rather than provide it to employers, insurers should analyse this data across their global portfolio. Having this insight could help them develop plans that suit the needs of different markets,” she explains.
Whether making it easier to submit a claim, or ensuring an employee is able to access the most appropriate healthcare for their needs, technology is transforming the international medical insurance market. And, with it helping to control costs as well as improving the customer experience, future developments are guaranteed.
Technology has already transformed the way overseas employees access healthcare but there is even more innovation on the horizon. Among the technologies with the greatest potential is artificial intelligence (AI), with the latest research by Frost & Sullivan estimating that it will generate savings of more than $150bn for the healthcare industry by 2025.
In the international medical insurance market, AI could be used to drive efficiencies across insurers’ back office processes, but also to enhance the services provided to members. Paul Tidy, chief operating officer at Generali Global Health, says his firm is exploring how AI and chatbots can be used alongside its virtual GP service. “It should enable us to broaden out the support we provide to employees,” he explains. “An employee telling the chatbot he has a headache could be given information about how to treat it and where to get additional help.”
More personalised health information is also likely to shape plan benefits. Rachel Western, principal at Aon Employee Benefits, points to initiatives such as DNAFit and Biobeats, which give users a better understanding of their health risks. “These tools provide the insight someone needs to manage their health risks more efficiently,” she adds. “This could be particularly useful for employees based in the remote areas where access to healthcare is more difficult.”
Blockchain could also benefit the international market, especially where employees are globally mobile. Stephen Hackett, director of employee benefits at Broadstone Corporate Benefits, explains:
“Blockchain offers a secure way to hold and transfer data, which will make it easier for an employee’s health data to move with them when they take an assignment in another country. Microsoft and Google are already well advanced in this area and I expect to see it widely adopted across the industry.”