Insurance, Wearables And The Future Of Healthcare

  • Forbes | by: Enrique Dans |
  • 2018-09-21
John Hancock, one of the largest and oldest insurers in the United States, owned since 2004 by Canada’s Manulife, has announced it will stop selling traditional life insurance and will only market interactive policies that record the exercise activities and data of health of its customers through wearables such as Fitbit or Apple Watch. The company will sell this type of policy through its subsidiary Vitality, finalizing in 2019 the conversion of its entire portfolio of policies to the new procedure.

These types of policies are becoming increasingly popular in markets such as South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, and are sold as an advantage both for users, who have an additional incentive to lead a healthier life, and for insurers, who get a portfolio of clients with healthier habits who tend to live longer and make fewer claims. Its detractors argue, however, that insurer may try to optimize their portfolios based on the data obtained, trying to offer less attractive conditions to those with variables indicating a higher risk.

As technology improves the ability of devices to record data related to exercise and health, more companies are seeing the opportunities this new approach may offer. As I have mentioned in previous posts, focusing criticism on these devices lack of precision is absurd: firstly, because these types of variables are improving rapidly, along with virtually all others in the area, and secondly, because the absence of clinical level metrics are compensated for by a spectacular wealth of continuous data provided by wearables, compared to the inconvenience of devices that can only be used in hospitals. Obviously, an electrocardiograph with its twelve electrodes has a greater capacity than a watch activated by two fingers, but the possibility of measuring our pulse over the course of an entire day in the context of a range of activities gives it some possibilities that the electrocardiograph, which is limited to a specific measurement, does not have. Ridiculing the impact of these types of devices or dumping them because they can give rise to false alarms, or not understanding the role they are going to play as generators of data in healthcare in the future is a failure to understand anything about statistics or life habits: the only way to move from a palliative health approach to a preventive model is by increasing the volume of data generated and feeding it with algorithms capable of interpreting them.

This reply by a cardiologist on Quora addresses many of the doubts about the contributions wearables have to make to improving our health: the good thing about Apple Watch, besides the fact that both the American Heart Association and the FDA recommend or approve the product and its functions, is that it is worn all day, allowing many people who are not aware of possible heart problems or who are not able to assess their symptoms due to lack of experience to receive alerts to carry out a medical check on potentially very dangerous conditions.

As the mostly positive reviews of the new Apple Watch 4 pile up, the idea of ​​a future in which this type of device plays an important role in healthcare, at a clinical and research level, as well as affecting insurers. Apple is not alone in this field: Fitbit has adopted such transformational approach for quite some time and is already launching services related to it. Others, such as Nest, owned by Alphabet, have recently carried out acquisitions such as Senosis, a spinoff from the University of Washington working on health monitoring systems using a smartphone, and make clear the intentions of its parent company and of others of the same level in matters such as the custody of the data and medical records. And Apple recently unveiled an API for application developers to use data stored in its health application so that with the appropriate level of supervision, people can share data with doctors, hospitals, etc. and receive reminders to follow treatment and other administrative tasks.

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