Market Focus: Technology

Edmund Tirbutt carries out an in depth analysis of the latest trends in technology in the health and protection insurance sectors

Online quotes, portals, email encryption, social networking...insurer technology promises much but is it delivering for brokers? Edmund Tirbutt investigates.

The types of technological advances that could eventually impact on health insurance and protection are mind boggling. Scientists, for example, have for long predicted that we will have intelligent clothes able to detect if you are likely to have a heart attack and capable of phoning an ambulance when one occurs. They have also forecast the emergence of intelligent toilets, able to advise you on whether you are eating the right diet – although there have to be doubts about whether an entity could be considered truly “intelligent” if it is prepared to be a toilet!

While such advances, which were already being touted well over a decade ago, have yet to become a reality, digital pen services are already enabling nurses to input data while undertaking screenings, voice stress analysis techniques are being used to detect signs of stress over the phone and some life offices are looking at neural network technology to help claim assessors determine  the likely length of a claim.

The internet is also ensuring that consumers have direct access to a great deal more information, but this can present something of a double- edged sword.  

Dominic Howard, Europe director at expert second medical opinion provider Best Doctors, says: “Our own data shows that around half of those who have seen a doctor and received a diagnosis then go and do their own research online, and that around one sixth actually print off information and bring it to the attention of the doctor. There are, however, also many ‘cybercondriacs’, and research suggests that one in four patients who research common surgery on the internet are left worried and confused. So there’s a massive amount of information out there, and one of challenges for insurers is to present it in an easy-to-read manner and in a way that is relevant to individuals.”

Additionally, while technology is helping to make intermediaries more efficient, it is also helping direct selling organisations to access the public more effectively online. Indeed, some private medical insurance (PMI) intermediaries complain that enquirers they have quoted for frequently also go to moneysupermarket.com and find they can get a keener quote without realising that it may involve significantly inferior cover.

Security issues are also clearly still weighing heavily on many minds, and it does not take a genius to work out that there are probably a number of potentially embarrassing accidents waiting to happen. For this reason Simplyhealth, which has received flak from intermediaries for insisting on email encryption for the past 18 months, is none too repentant.

Jack Briggs, intermediary sales and marketing director at Simplyhealth, says: “Email encryption is not popular with everyone but it’s necessary. Sometimes intermediaries say we are the only ones doing it but we believe it’s best practice and won’t be apologetic, and we believe others may follow. We have CCTV in all our data rooms and all our data is backed up on a nightly basis and encrypted. Information security is one area in which health insurers do differ quite markedly and I think that it will become a bigger and bigger thing in the industry because the press always get onto any serious breach.”

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