The digitisation of travel and health insurance was always happening, but it was more of a steady trickle than a waterfall of digital solutions on the market. And then, Covid. The insurance industry took the opportunity to take stock of its offering, and knew it wasn’t good enough. The whole world was getting their products and services online, and customers demanded the same from their insurance providers.
Embracing the digital change in insurance provision
Dr Sneh Khemka, CEO of SimplyHealth, gave a presentation at the recent ITIC Global in Madrid in which he outlined a brave new world; one in which insurers should be processing 90 to 95 per cent of claims online, and using digital solutions to enable access to medical assistance for business travellers and expats.
“All healthcare companies, including those in the travel and health insurance sphere, now need to really put their best foot forwards and move into a truly digital environment,” he told ITIJ. “Traditionally, this sector (both insurance and healthcare) has been a laggard at digital change, and we have dragged our feet too long behind retail and other industries that blast ahead.”
For Dr Khemka, digital transformation for healthcare covers two main concerns:
- How insurers interface with their consumers
- How insurers design and construct their technical infrastructure.
“For the former,” he continued, “it has to be not only ‘digital first’, but ‘mobile first’. The winners will have a highly curated and tested user experience, coupled by relevant and timely services (especially the provision of virtual consultations and virtual health and disease management). For the latter, it’s about three things:
- Knowing how to buy systems on a purely SaaS-based model
- Moving to a structure that prioritises interoperability
- Being cloud-based, for all tech and data hosting.”
Sasha Gainullin, CEO of battleface, agreed that insurers are now embracing technological solutions in some areas of provision, but remain in the dark when it comes to simplifying the customer journey. “One of my favourite business areas which requires complete renovation and innovation is our current claims filing process,” he told ITIJ. “Using tech-based solutions, insurers can increase efficiencies in the claims processing function with just a single click. For example, eliminating the traditional way of filling out a claim form and writing out long unnecessary statements for reimbursement.”
These forms and processes were created decades ago, when a lot of information had to be submitted as ‘proof of claim’ and when Google wasn’t the ever-present entity it is now. “With tech integrations and data aggregation, many of the submissions could be easily and immediately verified,” pointed out Gainullin. “Some insurers are starting to automatically approve every claim under a certain value amount.” Why would companies spend more resources trying to process a US$34.50 claim for reimbursement, versus simply receiving a receipt via a mobile app and sending an immediate refund directly to customers’ bank accounts?
Telehealth cements its position in the industry
The upward trend of telemedicine usage looks set to continue. A survey from GlobalData predicted that the value telemedicine as a sector will soon surpass e-health records and virtual clinical trials. GlobalData’s State of the Biopharmaceutical Industry 2021 reveals that telemedicine, which is ‘behind the industries of real-world evidence, remote patient monitoring (RPM), personalised medicine and immune-oncology development’, is due to maintain its leading role in healthcare provision.
“Telemedicine was added to the survey for the first time this year and has surpassed other key industry trends such as virtual clinical trials and electronic health records,” said Kitty Whitney, Director of Thematic Research at GlobalData.
Dr Simon Worrell, Global Medical Director of UK-based assistance company Collinson, said to ITIJ that ‘telemedicine is clearly the way forward for international assistance’. “Whether holidaying in Siem Reap, Vietnam, or posted for business in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, being able to speak with a local GP at the drop of a hat will reassure the client that the most appropriate care will be received,” he says. “Many consultations will simply result in advice being dispatched; no further action needed. But when concerning symptoms arise, a seamless dovetailing with medics well versed in global assistance will arrange the best plan of action – whether that be local consultations if appropriate, or in regional centres of excellence.” Dr Worrell pointed out that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, the general population wouldn’t have been so accepting of the mass rollout of digital health services, and travel insurers must capitalise on this opportunity. “The rise of telemedicine during the Covid crisis has shown that we’re even more prepared for virtual health consultations,” he added. “When face-to-face meetings with our own GPs was difficult or thought risky, a simple click on an app allowed rapid access to accredited experts. Whilst virtual consultations will be able to solve every patient’s immediate needs, they will kick start the process, allowing the right course of action to be rapidly taken, wherever you may be located.”
Digital health supported by real-world appointments
This ‘hybrid health’ model is one that digital health firm Telemedi stands firmly behind. Since 2014, Telemedi have been seeking to strengthen its position as a partner in the rollout of digital healthcare solutions for the insurance industry, with specific attention on the travel and assistance sector, operating with 100 customers in over 20 markets. The company’s belief that digital health and traditional medicine go hand in hand is one that resonates with many messages in the travel insurance sphere.
Technology is amazing, but it has to be focused on interactions with real people – and with medicine, accessing a digital appointment with a doctor in five minutes, enabling a swift referral to a specialist for an in-person procedure, can be lifesaving. For the primary care aspect of travel assistance, being able to have a consultation with a physician and receive a prescription in a few minutes adds a great value to the travel insurance product – for the insurer from a cost point of view, and for the customer from a service perspective. But it has to work flawlessly in order to the service to be successful over the longer term.
“Quality of the digital health offering is key to its success,” said Pawet Kaoka, VP of Global Business Development for Telemedi. “We need a constant feedback loop from our users in order to make sure that our system is working effectively and is meeting the needs of our patients.” Another key aspect of digital health solutions is interoperability, added Kaoka: “We have to fit seamlessly into the travel insurance offering in order to ensure utilisation and that we are providing an effective internal solution.”
Digital solutions for globally mobile employees
One area in which digital health solutions is making a very clear difference is in employee benefits, particularly for those companies who have employees around the world in countries where health systems can be less reliable and finding the appropriate care can be difficult. Accessing specialist care in these areas can be a challenge, but insurance solutions are available that are relying on digital networks of doctors to offer the right care.
One such solution has come from Trustedoctor. The company provides digital platform and navigation to critical illness insurance plans offered by Further Underwriting International SLU (a part of the same group, Further Group) that allows policyholders to reach a network of leading specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other critical illnesses. Such policies are providing high perceived value for low perceived cost proposition. The fact of the matter is that for a globally mobile members/policyholders, it can make all the difference in the world when they need it the most.
“We are digitising the care pathway,” explained Lukasz Rzeczkowski, Founder of Trustedoctor. “Early diagnosis pathway helped by virtual care is a sensible solution, and what our product does is it gives our customers access to the right specialist for their particular critical condition.” He pointed out that one of the biggest health impacts that will be felt for a longer period for a long time after Covid is a distant memory is the fact that there is a backlog of cancer patients in need of diagnosis and treatment that may not always be accessible to them in their home country.
Following on from a virtual consultation, the policyholder can be flown to a specialist for the treatment they need, or even flown to the hospital that has a robotic surgery option that allows that doctor to offer the patient the care they need. As ever with tech solutions, though, there must be a human element offering a complementary service. And for Trustedoctor, this comes in the form of a dedicated concierge – or ‘hand holding’ service, as Rzeczkowski describes it. The end-to-end care starts and finishes with a digital solution that must be supported by real people.
Another important point is that cancer care is not solely about the area of the body affected by the disease – the mental impact of a cancer diagnosis, the treatment and ongoing care needs affect not only the patient, but their family as well. We envisage that the products for the psychological impact of cancer is one that is going to have a great impact with such policies in the future.
Regulatory compliance is key to the security of digital health solutions, and while there are no global standards for telemedicine currently, the likelihood is that they are not far off. The move by regulators to force companies to take better care of their customers' data, through regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation for instance, mean that customers and insurers can have more confidence that digital solutions companies are being responsible in their use of customer/patient data.
The digital solutions keeping travel insurance current and relevant
Adapting to what customers need is critical, no matter what the industry or service being provided. What digital solutions are offering the travel insurance sector, though, is unparalleled when it comes to enabling vast steps forward in customer satisfaction, and thus, hopefully, loyalty.
Gainullin of battleface said: “It is critical for us to continue to offer relevant travel insurance products that are based on the current global travel ecosystem and the actual needs of every customer. This ensures customers are being covered for the right risks at the right rates. For partners, such as travel operators, agencies, airlines, MGAs, fintech and insurtech companies, much of the tech we’re seeing is moving toward allowing for customisation to suit their customer needs as well. Just like no two trips are the same, every partner has a unique proposition and customer segment which are specific to them. Using modular underwriting, tech and API, we can break the cycle of the exact same travel insurance product that is being offered without any customisation based on distribution partners’ value propositions. It’s a win-win for everyone involved: underwriters who segment offering based on the right risk, partners who are seeing higher conversions with relevant products and most importantly, customers who are properly insured.”
Making life easy for customers is the name of the game – and if digitisation can solve customer pain points while also saving the insurer money, then everyone wins. Zena Carter, Managing Director of Firemelon, reports that insurers are listening to what their customers want: “Interest from new clients for a better solution and existing clients to take us up on enhancements we offer has increased hugely, especially over the last few months as the travel market has started to pick up again. Throughout the pandemic, we have invested heavily in our self-service portal offering and it’s proving hugely popular, aligning with insurers' appetite to give end customers more control and reduce overheads in call centres by giving customers the ability to make policy amendments themselves online.”
The move to online claims functionality is continuing apace, and plenty of companies are reporting high levels of user satisfaction because of their willingness to accept claims through a digital portal. Carter said that the movements in the claims space signify ‘the biggest and most exciting moves forwards’ for the travel insurance sector, rolling out straight-through processing solutions, including AI in decision making, to clients. “This will transform the claims process for our clients and their customers, avoiding the need for any human interaction in the claims process,” she told ITIJ.
The pace of adoption we are seeing by travel insurers is remarkable from an industry that historically has been a few steps behind everyone else. What we need is to keep up this pace of technological innovation and ensure that as travel insurance premiums start to boost insurance coffers again, that the level of investment remains high.