Warmer weather, a lower cost of living, a change of pace – it’s no surprise the global, digital nomad lifestyle continues to appeal. However, it was Covid-19 that greatly increased the popularity of working abroad, as more people focused on their work/life balance and escaping the grind of the traditional nine-to-five. The MBO Partners 2022 State of Independence research study reported that 16.9 million American workers currently identify as digital nomads, with this number growing 131 per cent when compared to 2019 data. Needless to say, it’s a market segment that’s grown exponentially and is poised to steadily expand, as advancements in technology and flexible work policies lead to favourable conditions for those considering it.
The rise of digital nomads rendered existing travel health insurance policies insufficient, and although many insurers responded by creating global health insurance products, we’ve learned much about the complex needs of this market segment over the past few years. While innovation in the industry can be sluggish due to factors such as regulatory oversight and business silos, there are customer experience-based improvements that can be easily implemented to appeal to this savvier segment.
Increasing access to virtual care
Telemedicine is no longer a novel concept – and has been a focus for the healthcare industry for two decades now, improving ease of access to care. The concept was initially developed to address the needs of those in rural areas or who couldn’t access health facilities. But with the rise of digital nomads, insurers must consider the need for virtual care amongst their clientele.
Access to doctors via virtual visits is now a priority, providing greater convenience to the insured. It has also been proven to save money for insurers. Of course, challenges remain on both sides. Health providers have been slow to invest in telemedicine, partly due to the fact that insurers have been hesitant to reimburse for telemedicine services. There remain several other obstacles in providing this benefit across both the US and other countries due to local compliance requirements, but there has been significant progress, with further improvements on the horizon.
Helping the client maintain their health
Digital nomads have their own set of complications. One must navigate visa regulations, housing challenges and more. So, naturally, they look for products that make life simpler – and this is something a health insurer can offer in a number of ways, to stand out from the competition. Providing the customer with a product that not only addresses emergency situations, but also helps them more easily navigate new or existing health issues, is an important area of focus.
Take, for example, the need for improved prescription benefits. According to the aforementioned MBO Partners report, while digital nomads are getting younger, the market still consists of varying age groups, with the older demographic making up over one-third (37 per cent) of digital nomads from the US, and almost one in ten (nine per cent) reported as being over 60. This means differing needs when it comes to access to prescription medications and there are several options for improving benefits, such as offering lower drug prices. Easier access to cheaper prescriptions guarantees that the insured can stay on the medication prescribed, reducing the risk of more significant long-term health issues. Medical professionals warn that failing to take medication as prescribed, or taking smaller doses to save on cost, can be detrimental to one’s health. Therefore, enhancing the product to help the customer maintain their health not only sets the offering apart, but by reducing the risk of health issues, one could see more revenue on premiums.
Speaking of access to prescription drugs, this can also be taken a step further. At present, one insurer is looking to implement a home delivery option for prescriptions. A benefit such as this is a game-changer for digital nomads, as they may be residing in a country where access to certain medications is more difficult and leaning on their insurer for assistance is ideal.
Expanding wellness benefits
For companies that have invested in wellness programmes, the rewards have been significant. A Harvard Business Review article analysed Johnson & Johnson, noting that investment in their employees’ mental, physical and emotional health had paid off. These initiatives saved the company $250 million in healthcare costs over a decade. This article was released in 2010, so when I say change in the industry can be sluggish, it should come as no surprise that insurers are only now starting to take this into greater consideration.
This is particularly important in the development of a global health policy, because when the customer has a health issue, the insurer faces a number of challenges – depending on where they are and their health history.
One insurer that’s poised to expand wellness benefits for its international health plan is Cigna Global, which is considering covering the costs of additional screenings for certain types of cancer. Meanwhile, GeoBlue is enhancing the benefit of providing extra coverage for an annual physical. These are simple improvements in the grand scheme of things, but insurers take note, because it is always best for all parties involved to catch an illness early.
Leveraging and improving technology
Technological advancements continue to remain a top priority – and are especially important when developing a product geared towards expats. The MBO Partners data indicated that digital nomads are also more likely to be early adopters of technology (74 per cent) and seek out tech-savvy companies. This links back to creating a product that makes life easier for the consumer.
Insurers with a mobile app are working to enhance their value for the customer. These apps can be used to provide many services and features, such as:
- Helping to find the location of local doctors who speak the language of the insured
- Providing travel advisories
- Locations of pharmacies
- Medical term translations.
Companies without an app, if they haven’t started already, should invest in one – so they can offer customers more options through one easy channel.
Nimble and flexible
Adaptability continues to be the key competitive advantage for companies, and nowhere is this more applicable than in health insurance. This became particularly pronounced at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as billions sheltered in one place, launching digital interactions to an unprecedented level.
Insurers that already possessed the capability to implement effective digital functions in sales and distribution, service and retention and claims – or were quick to adapt – weathered the storm. Many companies reacted, quickly updated their policies to include pandemic benefits, and effectively communicated to clients how they would be taken care of. However, just as many companies could have done a better job adjusting to the challenges of the past few years, so there’s clearly room for improvement. The winners were the nimble and flexible, and this remains particularly important when it comes to offering products and services to digital nomads, who reside in an ever-changing landscape of needs and requirements.
It’s evident the number of digital nomads is poised to increase, so now is the time to invest in product improvements designed for this market segment, delving further into understanding their unique and complex requirements.