Our General Manager for Asia Pacific, Rob McIntyre, pens his thoughts on how we can crack the secret to affordable healthcare in the digital age.
This article was originally published in Britain in Hong Kong, the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. You can read the original article online here and download the PDF here.
We all know that healthcare can be expensive, particularly when living in Hong Kong. Worryingly the OECD predicts the rapid rise in healthcare costs in advanced economies will become unsustainable by 2060. Affordable healthcare is the responsibility of the entire healthcare value chain, including medical professionals, pharmaceuticals, regulators, insurers, technology developers and of course, ‘we’ the patients.
Medical advancements have to date focused on improving clinical outcomes and quality of life. Today, digital technology offers opportunities to control costs by educating and empowering the patient. From telemedicine services that reduce the number of people making visits to the doctor, to apps that help promote preventative care, there are many ways digital innovations could disrupt the way healthcare is delivered.
At a recent breakfast event hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce Healthcare Committee on 11 April 2018 there was much debate about how the health sector can crack the secret to affordable healthcare in the digital age. Here are my key takeaways from the event.
AI is king
With more than eight billion interconnected devices worldwide, businesses now have access to data on a scale that was previously unimaginable – this includes vast amounts of data on people’s health conditions across different ages, genders, and geographies.
What is evident is that ‘big data’ alone has little value, unless we can develop the Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools needed to convert it into meaningful information. For example, the NHS DeepMind Health Project currently uses AI to process hundreds of thousands of pieces of medical data within minutes, to help clinicians provide better, faster and safer care.
For health insurers, AI’s ability to improve the way we analyse data about existing and potential customers will enable us to improve our risk modelling and underwriting. In fact, such tools are already being used to anticipate how much customers will have to pay for medical services within a given year, helping us ensure premiums remain affordable.
Preventative care is digital
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 70% of deaths worldwide are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. NCDs are often linked to lifestyle factors, so technological solutions that encourage healthy behaviours can play a key role in reducing healthcare costs globally.
There are numerous apps and wearable devices that are already supporting people to quit smoking, manage their diet or stay active. These technologies are only getting more sophisticated: recent innovations include clothes that monitor your temperature and hydration levels, as well as biometric sensors that monitor blood glucose levels in diabetics.
Insurers are increasingly keen to understand how we can use digital technology to encourage behaviours that lead to healthier lives, fewer hospital admissions and ultimately lower premiums for our members. With the myriad of new technologies in the market, insurers will have an important role to play in aggregating these tools so our members can make more informed decisions about their health.
Healthcare on your smartphone
The most exciting development in healthcare to date is the smartphone. Whilst not a medical device in itself, it provides a platform via which healthcare is more accessible. App developers may not be able to make breakthroughs in medical science but they can have a significant influence on the way patients access and manage their healthcare. This includes the rise of telemedicine and virtual care services which present significant opportunities to control healthcare expenditure.
Telemedicine services deliver advice direct to the patient’s smartphone, thereby preventing unnecessary doctor visits. A report from Willis Towers Watson predicts that telemedicine could deliver USD 6 billion a year in savings to US companies if employees use such services in place of face-to-face visits to the doctor or emergency room. It’s no wonder that insurers are beginning to look at ways we can better harness such tools to the benefit of our members, helping to improve patient outcomes and save costs.
The rising cost of healthcare is an important issue for insurers with ever increasing pressures to keep premiums affordable while enabling our customers to access quality medical care. However, it’s clear that all parties across the healthcare value chain need to play their part if we are to effectively reduce costs.
This is not an issue that can be resolved overnight and many new technologies will require significant investment before cost savings can be realised. But we need to take action now to ensure we can keep healthcare costs sustainable in the long term.