Technology is already bringing significant benefits to the delivery of international PMI and further innovations are just around the corner, says Sam Barrett
Technology is revolutionising the international private medical insurance (IPMI) market, delivering significant benefits to insurers as well as to employers and their expatriate employees. But, with the pace of technological advance accelerating, the next five years could lead to an even more radical overhaul of the product.
Although the nature of future development is yet to be seen, the market is already very positive about the changes that have taken place.
“The past 12-18 months have seen international insurers catch up with the domestic market,” says Jelf International managing director Doug Rice. “Technology has led to improvements for everyone: many of the member apps and services really help to make the world a much smaller place.”
The member space is where technology has come into its own. Buck Consultants commercial lead and head of international Mike Lewars says: “IPMI is the ideal product for investment into apps. An employee based away from home won’t necessarily have access to HR support and traditional mail or phone won’t always be appropriate. Technology allows them to use the benefit efficiently but also means they can be kept abreast of any relevant health developments, such as the recent spread of Ebola.”
While the tech shift may deliver on the convenience front, in some parts of the world it is a necessity. In Africa, for example, while the postal infrastructure is patchy, the mobile network is highly developed, making internet communications the first choice for anyone based there.
Employers also benefit. By providing their employees with all the information they would need to access healthcare while overseas, there is less pressure on HR departments.
These apps can also benefit the insurers, according to Rice. “An employee can use these apps whether they need to claim or not so they build up more of a relationship with the insurer. This can make it less likely that the company will switch to another provider,” he says.
Age of the app
In light of these benefits, most insurers offer some form of member app, with varying levels of functionality. For example, as well as access to emergency assistance and medical advice, Aviva’s International Solutions app includes the MyHealthPassport online records system. This allows members to store their medical records, including details of any allergies, medications, scans and so on, which can then be shared with foreign healthcare providers or accessed in the event of an emergency.
Apps have also focused on improving the claims process. For example, Allianz Worldwide Care’s MyHealth app dispenses with paper claim forms completely, allowing members to photograph and submit invoices. It also includes a medical term trans–lator – showing key medical terms in 17 languages – and a hospital location service that uses GPS to provide directions.
While these services are increasingly regarded as a hygiene factor, further developments are predicted in the app space. For example, Matt Gale, consultant for Aon’s Global Benefits Practice, expects to see insurers use apps to create digital membership cards. These would operate like an airline boarding card, holding infor-mation about the individual’s benefits and potentially any relevant health details such as their medical history.
Employers have also benefited as the IPMI providers incorporate more technology into their products. Group administrators can make real-time changes to membership details, ensuring cover is always up to date and reducing the hassle associated with less frequent updates.
This can be supported by management information. Now Health International marketing and ecommerce director Alison Massey says: “Our employer clients can download three different reports whenever they like. These give them an up-to-date membership list, a claims summary and a statement of accounts so that they can see, by member, how much the cover is worth.
“This information can support many of their other responsibilities, such as calculating P11d liabilities.”
Introducing more technology has implications for cost too. Massey adds: “It probably works out cost-neutral from an insurer’s perspective as you’re often replacing the cost of providing a staffed service with the investment and running costs associated with technology. However, introducing more technology often means our customers enjoy efficiencies that can drive savings.”
A prime example of this is the ability to submit claims online. Previously, it was common for an employee based somewhere remote to use a courier to ensure that all the paperwork reached the insurer.
Gale says: “The cost of using a courier can be significant, especially in some parts of the world. Shifting claims online removes this cost for the employer.”
Further technological advances are expected. IPMI broker My-Matchmaker managing director David Eline says: “At the moment, technology is mainly about making the service work better. But the next quantum leap isn’t far away.”
Among the advances that are likely to change the face of IPMI is telemedicine, especially as faster mobile networks are introduced.
Rice, who refers to telemedicine as “a GP on your wrist”, believes it will be a game-changer. He says: “Employees will be able to have a consultation with a GP that speaks their language, wherever they are in the world.
“It could be used to support GPs too. For example, a GP on an oil rig could use technology to bring a specialist into a consultation with a patient.
This could help them determine whether the employee could be treated on site or needed to be returned to the mainland.”
Despite the benefits to this, there are also challenges. Axa PPP inter-national sales and marketing director Kevin Melton says the inter–national aspect of the product can create problems.
He says: “With any new service, we need to ensure it’s legally compliant around the world and that we can roll it out in different languages. This isn’t always easy but it is something we’re working on providing.”
As well as simplifying access to medical specialists, technology could help IPMI play a bigger part in managing employee health and wellbeing.
By using technology to monitor an individual’s health, it would be possible to deliver a number of
services. These could include pre-assignment health assessments, health monitoring while overseas – which could pick up symptoms of any problems early – and tailored health and wellbeing messages.
Lewars says it could also address issues around costs.
“IPMI isn’t just about key and senior employees. Where an employer provides cover to large groups of employees, it wants to be able to manage claims costs to keep premiums affordable,” he says.
“One way to do this is to integrate it with a broader wellness service that can help to reduce some of the health risks that push up premiums.”
Again, however, there are obstacles to overcome. Many people are sceptical about sharing data, especially personal information, so robust security would need to be in place to make them feel more confident.
In addition, incentives may be needed to encourage employees to share the data. These could come
from the service itself. Take Ebola: one of the early warning signs of this is an increase in temperature, so if this could be monitored through technology, it could be treated quickly, improving the chances of recovery.
While these advances build on existing developments and innovations, the next five years could bring a more radical overhaul of IPMI.
Eline believes that, through greater use of data, insurers could provide more customised cover.
“GPS technology can tell an insurer where an employee is so the cover could be customised to their needs,” he says. “Look at a company such as American Express: it analyses its customer data to fine-tune its services. IPMI providers could do the same.”
This could lead to a product that adjusts the level of cover dependent on an employee’s location, ensuring that pricing more accurately reflects the risk.
Costs could be further controlled by ensuring that cover fits the length of an assignment, rather than sticking to the standard annual insurance term.
A step towards this customisation has already been seen with the Bupa Global Travel policy. An employer purchases one policy to cover all of its travelling employees for trips lasting up to 12 months. The premium is based on an estimate of usage, with any unused days’ cover carried over for future travel.
However, while technology is set to deliver benefits in the IPMI market, insurers are also keen to retain some traditional methods.
Melton says: “Your health is such a personal thing that, regardless of the speed and convenience you may get from technology, you always need to offer customers the ability to pick up a phone and speak to someone.
“Submitting a claim is one thing but, if you’ve just been told you have cancer, speaking to someone who can explain your options can be invaluable.
“We have to ensure we keep the personal touch.”