Simplifying complexity

ITIJ 209, June 2018
It is our duty to be unrelenting in [our] goal of simplicity
Paula Covey
Chief Marketing Officer for Health
Allianz Partners
Paula Covey, Chief Marketing Officer for Health at Allianz Partners, talks to ITIJ about her career, technological innovation, and the challenges of 21st Century healthcare provision
How did you first get started in the international health insurance industry, and how did you come to be where you are now?
In 1996 I moved from a role in domestic UK health insurance with Bupa to their International Health business. The role was primarily operational; sorting out the claims function and creating a scalable way forward. It was a crucial time as IPMI was really starting to take off. As the company grew I moved through the organisation, with time spent in operational, product development, marketing and market development roles and directorships.  
A consistent focus on the customer has been at the heart of every role I’ve ever held, none more so than at Allianz Partners. I joined the Allianz Group in July 2016 as Head of Health in Global Life and Health, before moving to Allianz Partners in September 2017. Their focus on helping and protecting customers was a major selling point and something that really appealed. I truly believe that helping customers to stay healthy and being able to offer easy access to care, whenever and wherever required, is a fantastic reason to come to work every day.  
Telemedicine is a burgeoning aspect of providing access to care. How is Allianz Partners leveraging such services?
Where and how people access care is changing the healthcare landscape.  Today we’re seeing a distinct move from acute intervention to monitoring and assessment. Our in-house developed telemedicine solution for customers is now going live in France. It’s a very exciting time for us and visible proof of the fruits of our labour. This solution has been developed as a global customer interface, ready for roll out to several markets. 
In addition, we also have a programme underway to develop critical doctor and consultant global networks and the technology platforms to support such developments. This is not about replacing doctors; rather it’s about providing the right technology, tools and quality for people to make choices. Convenience is a big value driver for customers. We’re developing models with several partners with expertise in these fields and with medtech companies who also recognise these changing trends in how and where care is administered. 
Apps are an ever-popular platform for communicating with insureds. How do you see this function developing within the international travel and health insurance marketplace?  
We already have a number of apps available to our customers, such as TravelSmart and MyHealth. In terms of development, we believe that the most important consideration is understanding what’s really important to the customer. Our customers tell us that speed, simplicity and convenience are what matters to them. 
There are developments underway for additional services on app platforms. At the core, though, is asking how a digital setting and solution can take hassle away from our customer or improve the overall outcome. We’re doing this by looking at the potential pain points a patient can have through a health journey and developing solutions to alleviate these. It’s not about apps for apps’ sake, but really focusing on how we can create better outcomes for our customers.
How does Allianz Partners go about building and maintaining its network of medical providers around the globe?
As a client-driven organisation, we strive to ensure that we build networks where our members are located. Our goal is to enhance the customer experience through improved direct billing, and by ensuring quality treatment and services are available within our network. Our global medical provider network team, located across all continents, has a presence on the ground, enabling close management and monitoring of treatment cost and quality (through initiatives such as our hospital evaluation programme), and maintaining services for members.
As an international insurer, we are driven by a strong focus on delivering services through the implementation of easy-to-use digital interfaces for medical providers – a core component of this is the development of a provider portal which will allow providers to check eligibility, upload claims for straight-through processing, and access the status of their claims with the touch of a button. Development of digital solutions is in line with our overall organisational focus on becoming truly digital across all components of the value chain.  
What in your view are the major challenges facing providers of international health insurance, and how are these being met?
I would say that continued medical inflation is a major challenge. It can be partly attributed to increased medical developments and technology, but we cannot ignore the increasing burden of chronic diseases coupled with ageing populations.
Our development of teleconsultation and telemedicine solutions is part of the answer but we also need to do more to help employers drive prevention and wellness programmes. This is a major challenge centred around data and also in changing personal behaviours and attitudes, which we all know is hard to do. We are developing programmes and services in this area but the scale of the change required should not be underestimated.
Allianz Partners is working with a number of medtech and pharma companies to look at how we shape more innovative solutions for customers with the aim of driving costs down and customer care up. It’s a fascinating area and more innovation will come through partnerships than simply believing we can solve all elements as insurers alone. 
Do you think providers of health insurance are doing enough to anticipate the evolving needs and demands of customers, and how is technology helping to meet these demands?
How do you define ‘enough’? It is clear that understanding the landscape from the customer’s viewpoint rather than internally is crucial for any successful strategy. With health, though, it’s about how we combine customer needs with the right expertise. Technology and particularly digital solutions help enormously as they offer increased convenience and transparency. They also enable us to have a better view of what services help and what gets the right results for our customers. Anticipating needs is obviously part of the story but, increasingly, data and sharing insights with customers will create more value overall.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Simplicity – keeping the complexity of increasing regulation and country variations, sometimes conflicting aspects of the different healthcare systems, simple, in terms of end proposition design for the customer. It is our duty to be unrelenting in this goal of simplicity.
What are your proudest achievements, both professionally and personally?
Professionally there have been quite a few, such as entering new markets or particular product innovation successes; however, the things that really make me proud are what our people and teams do for our customers. The nature of our industry means that of course there are medical evacuations and creating solutions that make you proud you are part of an organisation like ours. For me, though, it’s much more about the little things, like our case management nurses who continue to check in daily with a patient’s mother, long after the danger has passed, but a connection has been created and I am sure hugely appreciated. I guess that’s why I am still working in IPMI after more than 20 years. I always feel our customers need that bit more care as they are often in a different country to their home country, at some of their most vulnerable moments. 
From a personal perspective, it would have to be summiting Kilimanjaro a few years ago and then working in the Tanzanian Orphanages that we had raised money for. Priceless.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be and why?
That’s a tough question. Although it may seem cliché I really do count myself lucky to be in the role that I am. If I had to choose I’d be a little cheeky as there’s actually two very different directions that appeal. Somewhat related to my current field in healthcare, I’d like to have been a doctor. The idea of being able to keep people healthy and offer solutions really appeals to me. In a completely different direction, I’d also love to be the person who designs the doodles on the Google homepage. I think that’s my creative streak trying to break out! ■

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