By 2020 it is estimated there could be 30 billion connected devices worldwide – or more than four devices for every person alive. Such staggering figures mean it’s hardly surprising that many industries, including insurance, are looking to the Internet of Things (IOT) for their next big technological evolution.
IOT and its potential to help reduce healthcare costs and keep insurance affordable will be a topic of hot debate at the 12th Asia Conference on Healthcare and Health Insurance this week. I am looking forward to a panel discussion on this issue tomorrow and debating the potential for interconnected devices to be game changing for our industry.
But what real opportunities does IOT bring, and how can the health insurance industry effectively harness these for the future?
It’s clear that IOT presents endless possibilities, not just in the way that insurers interact with customers, but also in the way medical providers deliver treatment, and patients manage their own healthcare. IOT is already transforming the healthcare industry, with interconnected devices helping to improve diagnoses and monitor patients in real time to prevent problems from becoming acute.
One of the key healthcare challenges of the 21st century is the need to control costs against the backdrop of an ageing population and new advances in medicine. This is an area where IOT has the most promise. IOT opens up greater possibilities for proactive and preventative intervention by physicians, and telemedicine and virtual care services are already enhancing patient care management, ultimately helping to keep costs down.
New advancements in personalised and precision medicine will also enable treatments to be tailored for each individual, helping to reduce costs by minimising the amount of ‘test and learn’ required when physicians are devising treatment plans. This is good news for patients in terms of improved outcomes, but also for insurers who ultimately foot the bill.
For health insurers, this increase in the available data about existing and potential customers will enable us to better customise products to each and every individual, while improving risk modeling and loss ratios. We are already starting to see this in its most basic form, with some insurers tracking customer behaviour via wearable devices and rewarding those that live healthier lifestyles.
However, even now many of these smart watches and health Apps are becoming outdated. The wearables of the future will be even more integrated with our daily lives, from sensors in the clothes we wear to augmented reality implants that were previously only the realm of science fiction. These will no doubt present new opportunities for insurers in ways we can’t yet imagine.
Advancements in blockchain technology will also open new doors, helping insurers better make sense of the vast amounts of data that IOT offers. Whilst this technology is still in its infancy, it’s possible the super computers of the future will be able to construct ‘Smart Insurance Contracts’ based on real time underwriting, rather than basing premiums on a snapshot of information that is outdated before the contract is even signed.
But with these opportunities also comes risk. It’s possible we may become overloaded with too much data to effectively make sense of it, not to mention the data privacy minefield that surrounds insurers and other commercial entities holding sensitive health data. At what point will the insured’s duty of disclosure outweigh their right to data privacy? Moving forward the industry will need to work together to set clear parameters to ensure we make the most of this new technology, while protecting the rights of the individual.
One thing is clear, all insurers will need to up their game and identify new partnerships and technology platforms that enable us to deliver a more comprehensive service for our customers. In future the industry will have to do more than offer health cover, but provide integrated health solutions that support our customer’s overall health and wellbeing.
If insurers can embrace IOT and other technologies to support people to stay healthy, we will not only save costs and ensure health insurance remains affordable, but most importantly, we will be able to better serve our customers.
Damian Delaney, Chief Commercial Officer, Now Health International