AIG is the latest insurer to add virtual care services to its protection offerings. However, the integration of technology in health insurance may not be the ultimate answer to delivering fast and cost-effective health services just yet.
According to GlobalData’s 2018 UK Insurance Consumer Survey, concern over NHS waiting times and services is the main reason why consumers purchase private medical insurance. Therefore, advocates of the technology argue that virtual health services could be a great asset to health insurers as the technology would improve customer convenience while being cost-effective.
Travel insurance providers would also benefit, as virtual health services would prevent the need for beneficiaries to find a doctor in an unfamiliar and remote location. According to Dr. Eric R Miller, former corporate head of Doctor Care Anywhere, doing so typically costs insurance companies two to three times the price of a virtual consultation. Additionally, the services would also allow the insured to access the level of healthcare that they are used to at home while saving travel insurance companies on the cost of medical claims, which have increased by 6.9% in 2018 in the UK according to the Association of British Insurers.
However, while more and more insurers adopt virtual care services platforms, there is no clear evidence that they actually lead to better time management for physicians or decrease the cost of consultations, beyond cases of mental illness and repeated diagnoses. On the contrary, the platforms are instead proving to be limited and somewhat costly.
In a 2017 report, the British Journal of General Practice found that patients are less likely to disclose the required information in virtual consultations. In conjunction with limited physical examinations, virtual appointments create low levels of diagnostic certainty. Thus, it is inevitable that cases created through virtual healthcare platforms will require a face-to-face consultation. The outcome of this conundrum is a perceived increase in workload for practitioners and greater costs, as it is inevitable that consultations will need to be repeated in order to deliver an accurate diagnosis.
Up to now, insurers have failed to illustrate the benefits of virtual consultations in their platforms beyond convenience, even if this could be enough of an incentive for customers as our 2018 UK Insurance Consumer Survey would suggest. Insurers need to make sure they are able to maintain that convenience when customers require a consultation in person. This illustrates that the issues of practitioner shortage and budgetary pressures have not been overcome by this technology, leaving insurers to face the same challenge of delivering an effective healthcare system to an ever-growing and aging population.
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