Currently showing: Funding longer lives

18 Jan 17 21:04

Keep pressing the snooze button, insurance industry, because we need to wake up, again. 

The recent Swiss Re conference, Health Monitoring: Making Sense of Sensors, reminded me again how easily we get stuck in one mindset when a mind-blowing revolution is bearing upon us. The future is not just wearables, it's sensors of every kind. It's figuring out the right sensors, and deciding where to put them. It's making  them frictionless, like the phone we carry. It's about how to make clinically accurate sensors comfortable to wear – on the outside or possibly the inside? But more important, it's not about the wearable, nor the sensor, nor the device of any kind – it's about us, as humans, choosing to take action based on the information we learn.

It's hard to summarize the confluence of so many expert opinions without over-simplifying, but here goes. From perspective, we are peering into a world that is as different from 20th century medicine as the Hubble space telescope is to Galileo's lenses. Three areas that will drastically transform health care include the improved ability for patients to participate in their own health and wellness, the holistic approach to wellness, and the impact of continuous vs. discrete observations.

Sensors help us take action

If we embrace sensor technology, and use the information we gather to make meaningful change in our lives, these devices can help us get and stay healthier, remain in our homes longer, or feel confident that our loved ones are safe. Sensors can provide the kind of data to create ultra-personalized insights that inform smarter decisions. How do I know what action to take to be my best self? Is my exercise routine really improving my overall fitness?  How is my nutrition correlated to my sleep? But if my insights are not personalized and actionable, or if I am not motivated to make a change, then wearables are irrelevant.

Holistic approach is needed

Sensors also help us bridge the intricate connection between the biological and the behavioral, the body and the mind. Heart rate variability measures physiological stress and resilience, which can be driven by both physical and mental factors. I'm told that diabetes is 4.5 times more expensive to treat in patients who are also depressed. If a sensor can detect depression, then we'd better also be able to help people once it's detected. 

Finally, what wearables and sensors most directly provide is data – they move us from seeing individual, discrete "photos" to a full-blown full-feature "film".   Fast, real-time data offers a far more complete picture, more objective assessments and the potential for information in a time and space where a doctor is not physically present. Decisions made with only a partial view can be misleading, and based on different ground truths. Consider two blood glucose readings taken in the same day. Both could be within the normal range, even though abnormal conditions are typically the norm. Continuous data will hopefully lead to better insights and better behavioral changes.

The conference was just as pragmatic as it was visionary. There are some real challenges we will face. Continuity of data is not perfect, and gaps still leave potential for mis-interpretation.  Missing data, device errors, and relevance can all lead to data quality issues. Increasing volumes of data and stress on battery life can cause real practical issues. And let's not underestimate concerns about privacy, data security and transparency in how we use information. What is considered helpful and beneficial in the right circumstance can become an ugly trust issue overnight if something unexpected happens with a consumer's data.  Diligence, investment, hard work and cross-functional communication are needed to address these issues.

Ultimately, insurers are uniquely well positioned to use sensor data provide the kind of personalized, meaningful and relevant insights consumers need to make informed and empowered decisions about their lives, and even to support positive behavioral change.  What about traditional insurance solutions? Just as always, insurance is the bedrock for shoring up against things outside our control.  But now we can offer more than peace of mind, we can offer a better way forward.

To learn more here's a video on the topic.

Category: Funding longer lives


Nick Stanger, CPA, CLU, FLMI - 19 Jan 2017, 1:41 p.m.

You hit on a key obstacle - we have to be motivated to change, to find and act on new information. For those, maybe 5-10% of the population, who already take the initiative because they are responsible and are always looking for ways to improve themselves, vast quantities of accurate information is already available at their fingertips. For the rest, it's a conundrum. Everyone knows what needs to be done to lose weight and get pysicially fit - eat right, exercise, don't smoke, drink only in moderation etc. Everyone knows what to do to get financially fit - live within means, limit debt, save, diversify investments. It's not education and information that are missing, it's just the 'doing' of it that is the hard part (!) - the self discipline, priorities, sacrifice, self-control, accountability. Even reward based systems seem to have limited benefit. Sensors sound intrusive with the possibility of making personal and private information public; but many are willing to give their personal information away for free now on internet sites, FB etc. So maybe it will not be such a hard sell.

JJ Carroll - 27 Jan 2017, 4:26 p.m.

Thanks for your thoughts, Nick. I think part of why people are willing to give their information away is because they get something of value in return. As an industry, I think we have to get better at connecting the human behavioral sciences with the analytical sciences.

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