So far in our articles we have been pretty positive about all aspects of e-health, digital health, e-medicine, wearable devices, etc, and what these will bring. And of course Gary is a pretty enthusiastic Fitbit wearer. But there are a few potential ‘trip hazards’ with underwriting significance.
Are wearables really going to be a rich source – or even a reasonably useful source – of data for risk evaluation purposes? For a start, these devices are not very accurate. Can something on your wrist really make a decent job of totalling your step count and recording your pulse? They are cheap and designed to appeal to a consumer market, so are hardly ‘industrial strength’. You might want to base underwriting decisions on something more sophisticated that delivers reliable data.
Partnerships between manufacturers and insurers? Again there’s the matter of questionable data, and to that can be added the risk that manufacturers could well come and go in a very competitive and fast-moving market place. And let’s face it, nothing moves faster than the world of IT. Apart from consumer preference, maybe: fickle consumers are likely to dump a product when a better one comes along. And might these wearables just be a fad that fizzles out? At least the Apple watch is a piece of jewellery as well as being laden with functionality. Remember that most buyers of this technology are in younger age groups. One, are they really targets for life and disability insurers? (It would be nice if they were but insurance isn’t high on their wish lists.) Two, they are low CV disease risks in the short and medium term anyway.
Another thing is that wearable devices are bought by fit people, not fatties, so what does using one really prove? Doesn’t a good BMI say quite a bit about lifestyle without the need for supplementary electronic input of doubtful worth? If you want to get a reasonably decent fix on exercise habits, then a deal with a gym chain (as in some of the Vitality propositions) is a better bet. But then why focus on gym usage to the exclusion of other (and some might say maybe better) forms of exercise like running, athletics or even dancing (which exercises a real variety of muscle groups and keeps the old grey matter active as well)? In fairness a wearable does provide recorded data.
Ultimately, it could be that meaningful digital health will be more about implantable and injectable devices and robotics that form a concept of truly personalised medicine. But for insurers to benefit they will have to adjust. Customers will have to be willing to share their data – and, given how sensitive people are about health information, that is going to be a big ask; bigger than asking for consent to contact their physician/GP for a health record summary. Current concerns about security will be amplified. There may well be restrictions on how long data, at least in its raw form as obtained from the source, can be retained. Insurers may find the need to appoint a ‘privacy officer’.
Digital health will form part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), the network of physical objects – such as devices, vehicles and buildings – embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables them to collect and exchange data. The IoT is here in part already but there is much more to come, and it’s all exciting stuff. Digital health is potentially about much more than the tech people are strapping to their wrists at the moment.