Natalya Butakova, CEO, AP Companies
Natalya Butakova of AP Companies noted that ‘care at home’ and telemedicine solutions had grown in popularity during the pandemic, adding that this is likely to be a ‘continuing trend’ in the future.
However, she noted that there is a disparity between how these technologies are viewed by providers, compared with the attitudes of their customers. Butakova said that while only 17 per cent of providers said that virtual appointments were something they were willing to offer, 62 per cent of customers said they would be willing to use virtual care in future. Additionally, 37 per cent of consumers also said that they would be willing to use it for ‘ongoing treatment of a chronic condition’.
Butakova recognised that telemedicine could not be a solution in every situation – ‘maybe they should go to hospital sometimes’ – it was important that the two groups ‘meet in the middle’ regarding the technology.
“Providers should take a second look at what services they can provide, and maybe customers should get better educated about what service is appropriate,” she argued.
“Digital means of treatment should not be neglected by insurers,” said Butakova, noting that since the pandemic, ‘people have become very self-reserved, and would rather send a WhatsApp message than talk face to face’. Additionally, there has been increasing demand for check-ups, as ‘people became more aware of their health and are more willing to be healthy’.
Digital solutions offer an efficient way to tackle this increased demand for healthcare, while also providing for the more reserved social behaviour of the public, post-pandemic.
“Providers should consider the higher value of non-traditional and mental healthcare, particularly in response to the needs of younger customers,” Butakova added.
Digital healthcare solutions can also have additional benefits, enabling more efficient forms of data gathering: “At an insurer’s level, big data helps you process claims effectively and gives you insights into your customers’ needs,” she said. However, she investing in more traditional ways of enhancing your operations, such as local knowledge, remains equally vital to quality service provision.
Butakova also noted that despite ‘clear signs of deglobalisation around the world’, ‘we have spotted more close collaborations between global health players’, in part due to the need to respond quickly to the new world.
“Everyone understands the need to work together to get through the difficult period, and to adapt to new trends in the most cost-effective way,” she said. “Covid, if it has not killed us, can only make us stronger. It has taught us to be flexible, to adapt, and that is the ability that we have acquired.”
Ross Thompson, CEO and Founder, COVAC GLOBAL
Ross Thompson of COVAC GLOBAL agreed with Butakova, arguing that customers now want coverage which is ‘proactive, flexible and innovative’. “People have stress-tested what they’ve always bought and what they’ve always used – and they’ve concluded ‘I don’t know if this is of value anymore’,” he said.
He argued that while traditional insurance-based assistance provision tries to be ‘everything to everybody’, those looking to innovate in the sector should consider how to create products that serve the specific needs of clients.
Speaking about his own company, he said that COVAC GLOBAL chose a membership model to better meet these needs, arguing that membership products are more ‘flexible and adaptable’.
Thompson said the benefits of choosing a membership-based model included:
- A faster creation process from concept to execution – ‘there are a lot of ways of indemnifying a product’
- Simplicity for consumers, resellers and partners – in COVAC’s case, it made the company’s Covid coverage easier to package
- Greater adaptability – allowing for easy modification of triggers and benefits
- Streamlined legal complexities – ‘a membership, depending on how it is insured, can be a solution to some geographic legal restrictions’
- Easier financial viability – including easier management of the financial risks of indemnification.
He noted that there could potentially be significant opportunities in the membership-based assistance sector: “Before Covid, the average age of someone purchasing membership coverage was 55+,” he explained. By contrast, Covac’s membership averages in their thirties. “We created that market,” he said.
John Spears, Vice President for Marketing and Business Development, Global Excel
John Spears of Global Excel said that ‘in our industry, services were often retroactive, hands-off and more focused on the bill’, without much focus on member experience or the ‘whole claim’, and primarily focusing on cost containment at the back end of the case.
This approach to healthcare assistance, he argued, is being challenged as healthcare inflation continues to significantly outpace consumer inflation. He noted that healthcare costs in the US have traditionally risen three times faster than regular consumer prices – and yet globally, healthcare costs are rising on average at an even faster rate than that – with few real price controls.
Additionally, due to a status quo in many parts of the world where healthcare providers are paid ‘based on the quantity of services, rather than the quality’, overtreatment has become increasingly prevalent.
To address this, Spears said ‘we need to mitigate costs … and become more involved with the consumer at an earlier stage in the process, so they can get the right care at the right time’.
“The emergency room is not always the best option,” he said. “Telehealth can be the right option. But we’ve got to get involved with the consumer and then we can increase the experience for them while improving financial efficiencies.”
Such efforts would be in line with customer expectations, he argued. ‘They want the Uber experience these days’, he said, with coverage being delivered more as a service, rather than a product. ‘Omni-channel communication’ is also a ‘requirement’, as customers seek more options when communicating with their provider. Likewise, embracing new tools such as application program interfaces (API), predictive modelling, data analysis, and artificial intelligence is also important.
However, he added: “It’s not just about digital first versus the human touch. We needs to concentrate on consumers’ needs – it’s about coming up with a solutions package that meets the needs of consumers.”
He finished by stating that: “If there was one thing that Covid did was that it put a spotlight on some of the problems in our industry and also highlighted opportunities that we didn’t know were there. I think we’ve learned from it, I think we’ve got better from it.”