Seeing into the future

Wearable technologies will become integral to benefits delivery in the not to distant future says F&TRC director Ian McKenna

A converted Chevrolet dealership in Downtown Sacramento is probably not somewhere most people would expect to be right at the forefront of technology innovation. It was in just such a location a few weeks ago I found myself discussing new developments which have huge potential to transform many of the primary functions of the insurance and financial services industries.

The Shop, on I Street, Sacramento has been created by VSP, one of the world’s leading vision insurers, as an innovation hub. The organisation, which has recently launched in the UK, offers a range of vision care benefit services designed to support the employee benefits market.

The breadth of VSP’s involvement in vision means the company is able to see opportunities to innovate in ways that might be less obvious to organisations solely operated as insurers. During my meeting with innovation strategist Jay Sales it was clear how much the business is planning to use emerging wearable technologies such as Google Glass to achieve new ways of monitoring employees health and proactively identify medical issues even before traditional symptoms.

Wearable technology is enabling remote monitoring of a wide range of conditions. This in turn will enable early identification of health risks and pre-emptive action to avoid serious illness. Delivering such benefits will be one of the main reasons why consumers will embrace wearable technology and be willing to share a level of personal information that might previously have appeared overly intrusive. 

When considering the impact such technology is likely to have it is important to recognise the difference in attitudes between digital immigrants, those who remember a pre-internet age when living and working practices were very different, and the younger generation of digital natives for whom such technology has existed for as long as they can remember. The latter group has been connected all their lives and embeds technology and communication in every element of it.

For digital immigrants, use of technology to identify early onset conditions and take remedial action may make wearable technology a valuable tool to reduce their healthcare and insurance costs. For digital natives giving them tools that help them live healthier lives is the sort of service they will expect as part of their workplace benefits.

One group will not gain from such developments – digital outcasts; those who reject, decry and belittle the benefits of technology.

Meanwhile over the next few years wearable technology will make a level of predictive monitoring that would previously have been inconceivable and unaffordable part of every day life. Significant benefits can be achieved today through regular eye examinations.

Early indications of diabetes, coronary artery disease and hypertension can all be identified by regular eye examinations long before symptoms begin to appear, this appears to present a compelling case for vision care to become part of employee benefit packages.

Vision problems can have very negative impact for employers through reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and ultimately disability. Conversely employees who require and receive new glasses typically can improve productivity by 35 per cent over the subsequent two years. From this perspective there are clear business benefits that could potentially make expenditure on vision care insurance self-funding.

VSP will be presenting its unique perspective on how wearable technologies can transform the insurance and healthcare industries at the forthcoming Platforum Top Gear conference on 18th June. Having been responsible for selecting the leading edge innovators from around the world who are presenting in the “The Future is Already Here” part of the event, I am confident that those attending this event will find many traditional views of the future seriously challenged.

At the time of writing there is considerable speculation about Apple’s forthcoming Healthcare monitoring app, which it is suggested will be able to measure a wide range of biometric data and work in conjunction with the rumoured iWatch. Blood sugar, blood pressure, respiration rates and oxygen saturation are further examples of the key indicators wearable technologies will be able to monitor in real time in the very near future. With parts of the UK corporate benefits market struggling to update information annually, wearable technology and providers like VSP will transform the market with real time information.

The clock is ticking for the worst laggards in these areas, I can think of one or two for whom oblivion is now inevitable, but for the rest of the market the challenge must be can they change fast enough to survive?