Industry voice: Proactive protection
Alex Laidlaw, Technical Product Director of World Travel Protection, talks to Michelle Royle about the use of technology in the delivery of travel medical assistance services
In the past, travel medical assistance was reactive, with policy holders calling a phone number if they needed assistance in an emergency. Today, the service has been revolutionised.
Technology now plays a crucial role in identifying and understanding global threats. We can monitor real-time events and incidents, watch them unfold, and anticipate risks to travellers. For customers who choose to share their trip information or location, they can access automatic push notifications, providing information on security and health risks tailored for them. Then, in the event of an incident, a customer can be identified and located immediately as potentially at risk or not, and contacted to ensure their safety.
A proactive approach
Since the pandemic, we have seen a growing awareness from organisations about the importance of travelling teams’ safety and protection. The days are gone when they would wave employees off and look forward to seeing them in a week. In an increasingly volatile world, organisations are now taking a proactive approach to ensuring the health and safety of their travelling workforce.
A global rise in environmental disasters has also highlighted the importance of proactive care to provide timely advice and assistance to travelling teams. For example, we recently identified a group of leisure and corporate customers located within or close to a significant earthquake. Because travellers were sharing their itineraries and we could geolocate them, we could identify quickly who might be impacted. They were then personally contacted to ascertain their safety as well as checking to see if they required any assistance.
World Travel Protection clients use our new Travel Assist Management Portal and App, which can be accessed via a traveller’s phone or computer, and allows an organisation’s risk manager to monitor global risks, locate their travellers, communicate with them, and identify where and if threats may occur. It also allows individuals to manage their profile, their trips and search the latest intelligence and alerts for countries and cities they are visiting.
With travellers easily accessible, organisations can utilise the communication tool to request a traveller’s check-in (for safety) or provide key communications to further ensure their safety. This proactive approach also provides relevant information to travellers before their trip, helping them to be better prepared and make informed decisions, as well as reducing customer queries.
Travellers are recommended to always have a travel assistance app on their mobile if their provider offers one, so they can easily be located and sent targeted travel alerts to their smartphones of any emerging or endemic risks, for example, socio-political unrest or natural disasters, directly in their travel path.
Travellers are recommended to always have a travel assistance app on their mobile if their provider offers one,
The app also has a fully interactive map for users. They can see where events are happening in relation to their location and are also able to search anywhere in the world to view additional events and click on them for detailed information. It also provides access to travel safety video guides to inform travellers on risks they may encounter and how best to manage them including specific women’s travel and LGBTQ+ safety information. Local event feeds, powered with artificial intelligence (AI), provide instant delivery of news happening within the user’s defined radius.
AI can also support medical assistance by analysing large amounts of data to quickly identify potential health risks, including new outbreaks. This can provide real-time recommendations to medical professionals and streamline the process of identifying and responding to emergencies, ultimately leading to better outcomes for travellers.
Another way AI and travel risk management can work together is by using the data to identify patterns and trends, allowing medical professionals to make more informed decisions about diagnosis, treatment and preventable measure for travellers based on their individual risk profiles and location.
One key challenge many organisations face is communicating to their teams the importance of using the technology. We have found there can be apathy from travellers, who perhaps feel that they do not need this level of support, as well as some expressing dislike about organisations knowing their location and feeling ‘under surveillance’.
App utilisation is always going to be a challenge, particularly as many people are also now experiencing app fatigue
Indeed, we found these sentiments expressed in a recent global survey that we conducted with 2,000 business travellers in Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. While 67 per cent of business travellers are provided with a travel assistance app, only six per cent say they are required to use it while travelling. In addition, only one in five (19 per cent) say they have downloaded the app, another fifth (21 per cent) say they ‘haven’t bothered’ and a further fifth say they don’t wish to use one.
App utilisation is always going to be a challenge, particularly as many people are also now experiencing app fatigue. However, these findings demonstrate how essential it is that the benefits of the app are communicated to users to ensure a robust travel management system is in place.
It is common for people to be concerned about their privacy and surveillance when it comes to technology. However for those who would prefer to only use a paper trail itinerary, whilst this has its place and will always be useful, it is important they are aware of its limitations when things go wrong. If your organisation only knows your transport details and where you are staying, its ability to support you in an unforeseen security situation is severely diminished.
For those worried about the surveillance aspect, the app allows the user to control their own appetite for location sharing through its privacy function, which places a traveller within a five kilometre radius of their location. By keeping it on, but masking their precise location, individuals can still be identified as potentially at risk if a situation occurs, while maintaining their privacy. Travellers can also control when they receive notifications depending on their appetite for risk, including a combination of the category, severity, and distance to an event.
Technology has also improved speed and access to travel medical assistance on the ground
Technology has also improved speed and access to travel medical assistance on the ground, by making it easier for travel risk management organisations to manage their global provider network. From top tourist destinations to remote, regional areas, it’s possible to quickly and efficiently identify the nearest appropriate medical assistance to the customer when needed.
Global telemedicine providers can also give a cost-effective solution that provides appropriate care for the individual. We see telemedicine as a complementary service that enables us to direct non-critical medical assistance to the service and this, in turn, allows our case managers and medical staff time to triage the cases that require more attention.
When it comes to the future, we will continue to invest heavily in technology to ensure we have a world-class product and service for clients to guarantee their travelling teams feel safe and supported, and enjoy peace of mind.