Wellness and the digital revolution in international health insurance

Wellness has become an increasingly important term in the international private medical insurance space over the last 20 years. Insurers have gradually re-positioned themselves from simple healthcare claims payers to organisations that offer holistic solutions that help their members stay healthy.

But what do we mean by wellness in the context of international health insurance? And how exactly can it help members who can be scattered throughout all corners of the world?

The industry had moved on

20 years ago, the international health insurance sector offered a simple proposition to their customers: pay your health insurance premiums and we’ll pay for your medical treatment. The same core offer applies today. Indeed, with more extensive medical networks, digital tools and online information insurers make it even easier for policyholders to access the medical treatment they need.

But the industry has moved on. Insurers understood that just paying for treatment isn’t enough. Nor is it economical. After all, paying for a sick population is more expensive that paying for a healthy one.

So they now go further and look to help members make the right lifestyle choices with the aim of keeping a population group fitter and healthier. That’s good for the member, good for their employer, and good for the insurer.

An evolving wellness offer

It’s safe to say that wellness is still very much an evolving benefit in the international private medical insurance sector. Digital innovations are introducing new advancements on a regular basis meaning insurers have a wealth of potential tools to offer their members.

Here are a few examples.

Health risk assessments

Health risk assessments (HRAs) are now a staple offering in the IPMI sector. HRAs help to identify underlying health issues such as high blood pressure or cholesterol and a variety of other conditions. And if something isn’t an issue yet, an assessment can forewarn the patient that it might become one if better lifestyle choices are not forthcoming.

Of course, face-to-face HRAs involving physical examinations and the taking of/testing fluid samples can be more thorough than online HRA tests, but digital innovations are seeing online testing becoming more insightful each year.

Fitness apps

Smartphone apps are now part of our daily lives, with health and fitness one area where they are proving popular. Apps cover many aspects of the fitness spectrum, including providing members with healthy eating and exercise information, and allowing the progress towards health to be tracked.

Each year, apps are getting smarter. Users can now track their wellness progress against friends or colleagues, view performance league tables, track health data and much more. These, and other features can positively boost motivation.

Allianz Care’s relatively new wellness app, Olive, is a fundamental shift (according to Allianz) from reactive to proactive care, with wellness as one of three focus areas:

  • Empowered health and wellbeing – through digital health and wellbeing tools members can access relevant information, support, set personal health goals and arrange team-wide fitness challenges.
  • Active prevention – identifying the signs of a chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease, before the condition progresses.
  • Proactive treatment – ‘at risk’ members can attend talks by medical professionals, and be guided to the appropriate care and treatment where progress can be monitored.

Mental wellbeing

When we think about wellbeing, of course, we need to consider mental health. Mental health has rapidly risen up societal and corporate agendas. Most insurers offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that enable members to talk with counsellors if they are feeling anxious. Some have also launched apps to specifically address this challenge.

Apps like Allianz’s Olive will include an element of mental health support and Aetna International have launched a targeted app called Wysa. Wysa facilitates member access to guided mental well-being support by allowing them to ‘chat’ about their mental well-being via text, access additional information and seek the support of a medical professional.

Some apps will only be available to company employees. However, insurers may be tempted to extend access to individual plans where there is a demonstrably positive effect on member health outcomes.

Other services to boost health and wellness

Insurers have worked hard to provide a range of other digital offerings services that all help to provide additional support and keep members fit and healthy.

Medicine translations, for example, are now available in digital forms from many insurance providers, helping to ensure members are getting the correct medication when abroad. Providers also create online hubs containing self-help healthy eating and fitness information for members. These hubs can also offer authoritative medical information, helping members avoid spurious medical advice available in some parts of the internet.

Wellness is a big concern for the international private medical insurance sector. Digital innovations have certainly made an impact in this area and, as the world continues its relentless drive forward, online wellness will no doubt be a very different place in 20 years than it is today.