This article was originally published on the Asia Insurance Review. You can read the full article here.
The international private medical insurance (IPMI) industry is likely to see more change over the next five years than it has in the past 20, particularly as new technologies and medical advancements fundamentally change the way we perceive, manage and deliver international healthcare.
There is no doubt that the number of expats worldwide is growing rapidly. Latest data from Finaccord estimates there were more than 105 million expatriates eligible for international health insurance in 2015, and this is expected to grow by 3.8% to reach 122 million by 2019.
As businesses face increased competition to attract global talent, company benefits such as international health insurance continue to come under ever greater scrutiny. So what does the future hold for IPMI, and how can the industry effectively harness change to better service this growing customer base?
It is clear that technology is playing an increasingly important role in all aspects of health insurance. From the use of real time data to support advancements in digital underwriting to telemedicine for improved patient health management, there are endless possibilities for technology to disrupt the entire healthcare value chain, including IPMI.
At Now Health International, we are constantly working to upgrade and improve our digital tools, but we know these are only one step on an ongoing journey towards a completely digital experience. Near field communication, augmented reality and iBeacons are already changing the way insurers interact with their customers, whilst wearable devices can now be linked to health insurance plans to reduce premiums for those demonstrating healthier lifestyle habits.
Virtual membership cards
Looking forward, we see the next key advancement in the creation of virtual membership cards, something which Now Health International is already pursuing. Progress is being made to introduce virtual cards which sit in members’ virtual wallets, and can help medical providers easily verify whether the patient can access their direct billing network. However, we see this as only the beginning, with virtual membership cards providing a gateway to a more truly integrated health insurance solution.
Imagine this scenario. As a customer walks into the entrance of his local doctor, the receptionist sees his name, level of cover and medical history appear on a screen before he even reaches the counter. As he sits in the waiting area, the member receives an SMS notification reminding him that he is due for a flu vaccination, which he can book that day at a discount. On his way out, the customer swipes his virtual membership card via his smartphone – it is linked to his credit card so he does not even need to submit a claim – and he is automatically reimbursed a few days later. That evening, he gets an automated reminder on his smart watch to take the medication his doctor has prescribed.
This level of technological integration may be a while off yet, but IPMI providers need to start the innovation now and find ways to leverage existing digital tools to create a more seamless experience for the end user.
More than just health insurance
As well as technological advancements, we are also seeing a more fundamental shift in the way consumers perceive health insurance.
Increasingly sophisticated, internationally minded consumers want more than just high benefit limits and a fast claims turnaround. They now demand global partners who can help support their overall health and well-being, encompassing everything from healthy lifestyle behaviours, through to support with finding expert medical practitioners and the maintenance of chronic conditions.
This trend towards more integrated health insurance solutions will partly be fuelled by new technologies, such as the rise of mHealth (mobile health) which can support education around ill-health prevention measures, or telemedicine which will enable remote consultations for those living in rural areas. However, IPMI providers will also need to look further afield to find other ways to add value to their member’s international health insurance plan.
New value-added services
For example, as part of our recent product review, we have enhanced our flagship WorldCare plan to deliver three new value-added services. These include a second medical opinion service to ensure our members get the right diagnosis and treatment at the right time, from the industry’s best medical practitioners (as ranked by their peers).
We have also added a crisis management support service, including health and safety alerts for our members that may have to travel to places with limited medical facilities. Our new global concierge service will also help take the hassle out of arranging overseas treatment for when our members opt to utilise the ‘international’ element of their IPMI plan.
These enhancements to our WorldCare plan are a step in the right direction to delivering greater value for our members and to better meet their international healthcare needs. However, we know there is more to do, which is why we are continually asking for feedback from both our members and intermediaries, to ensure we remain at the forefront of industry innovation.
Going forward, all health insurers will need to look for new partnerships and services outside of the traditional IPMI sphere, if we are to be able to offer the truly integrated health solutions that our globally-minded customers demand.
The new way to submit claims
At Now Health International, one of the greatest changes we have seen to the IPMI industry in recent years is in the impact of technology on the claims process.
Less than a decade ago, the majority of claims were still paper-based, both in the way claims were submitted by members and processed at the back-end. This has gradually changed over recent years, as the globally mobile workforce has demanded better digital solutions to ensure their cover is genuinely accessible, wherever they are in the world.
Whilst most international health insurers now enable the online submission of claims, these are often still partly paper-based, with customers simply emailing a scan of a hardcopy claims form. However, as demand for online solutions becomes an increasingly important factor when choosing between service providers, IPMI providers are gradually moving towards making the entire claims process truly digital.
At Now Health International, we have worked to respond to this increasing customer demand by creating a smartphone app and online portal. These tools not only enable members to view their plan documents electronically, but also to find the nearest medical provider, and submit and track claims online. Approximately 20% of all our claims are currently submitted using our app, and we expect usage of this innovative tool to grow exponentially in the years ahead.
Harness the digital culture
In summary, the next five years will be game changing for both the IPMI and broader healthcare industries. Increasing demand for international health insurance will need to be met with new products and service innovations, enhanced digital tools, true product portability and flexibility, and a more integrated approach to the overall customer experience.
Those providers that can effectively harness a digital culture via the use of new technologies and the data these generate, will reap the rewards in the years ahead.
Damian Delaney, Chief Commercial Officer, Now Health International Group