When we contemplate the forces currently shaping the health industry, two primary trends come to mind. Firstly, healthcare has undergone rapid digitisation over the last few years. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital health, and the proliferation of technologies such as apps, wearables and even generative AI are creating infinite new opportunities for innovation.
While the explosion of publicly accessible digital health tools and information has empowered people to take the lead in researching and managing their health before seeking professional advice, they are now faced with the task of discerning what is actually accurate and valuable.
Secondly, existing healthcare systems, which are already burdened by inadequate staffing, are being weighed down further by rising demand. The burden of chronic illnesses continues to grow globally and WHO1 estimates that by 2050, diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and respiratory illnesses will account for 86% of total deaths each year. On top of that, the world is battling an invisible crisis: the mental health epidemic. At least 1 in 8 adults suffer from a mental health condition, and it’s costing the economy 12 billion productive work days and over USD 1 trillion per year2.
While this paints a grim portrait for the global healthcare community, one thing is clear: if we are to address the biggest threats to health today and tackle ever-increasing medical inflation, there is a need for greater investment in prevention and early intervention, rather than cure. And to do so, digital health is the way forward.
Embracing digital health affords us new channels to increase patient engagement and empower them to manage their health with reliable, curated resources, leading to better treatment adherence and health outcomes. It is also a stride towards more tailored healthcare, meeting the need for personalisation that at least 70% of consumers3 today consider basic. Digital health can complement in-person care, alleviating staffing shortages and resultant pressures on physicians to decrease time spent with patients. And crucially, it is the key to unlocking behavioural change that is crucial for prevention, delivering targeted interventions and enabling early detection.
Still, to build more sustainable healthcare systems enabled by digital health, every player in the ecosystem, from insurers and healthcare providers, to policy makers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), must come together through symbiotic partnerships and continuous dialogue. Otherwise, the patient experience across different elements in healthcare systems can be incongruent, which would be counterproductive and leave more room for patients to be overwhelmed or confused and therefore not take the right steps for their health. WHO estimates that up to 50% of patients
experience medication errors when transitioning between different healthcare settings4. Evidently, patients need a clearer steer as they move through the ecosystem seeking prevention, care and recovery. Ensuring that these touchpoints work together harmoniously is crucial to delivering cohesive, effective care.
But collaboration between stakeholders for a more robust digital health landscape is no easy feat given that mistrust, fragmentation and lack of transparency between patients, payers and providers is rampant. So the question is, who should lead the charge?
There are several compelling reasons that insurance should step up to the plate. Insurance companies are uniquely positioned in healthcare to be ecosystem orchestrators, and can drive systemic improvements that will benefit patients and the healthcare industry as a whole. In many countries, insurance serves a significantly larger segment of the population compared to healthcare providers5, giving them a bird’s eye view of patient information, health trends and risk profiles. They are also extensively connected to various stakeholders, putting them in the prime spot to facilitate the collaboration necessary for the development of comprehensive and integrated digital health solutions.
On top of that, insurers are experts in assessing and managing risk, and are accustomed to navigating the complex legal and regulatory landscape of digital health. The wealth of data they have can contribute to optimising healthcare delivery and managing cost. For instance, insurers can partner providers to offer digital symptom checker tools and telehealth services, which steers patients with non-emergent problems away from specialist clinics or hospitals. In Turkey, Vivy and Allianz Türkiye were able to effectively move 22% of symptom checker users towards practicing self-care instead of seeking medical attention.
Current demands on healthcare systems, combined with rising health costs and staffing shortages mean we need to scale up our focus on digital health, and shift the scales from cure to early detection and intervention. It would be a missed opportunity for insurers not to bring the healthcare community together to pave the way for a more personalized, prevention-oriented and patient-centric healthcare landscape. Insurers, it’s time to step up to take the lead in digital health.
Population coverage for health care.
About the author: Roland Kirch,
CEO since 2020, leading Vivy's global expansion. Internationally experienced senior executive. Have worked in multiple verticals - from health / health tech and telecommunications to logistics and shipping -, led various business and digital transformations and worked in diverse settings of start-ups, mid-sized companies and multinational corporations alike.