This article was originally commissioned for the July edition of the Actuarial Post.
A colleague of mine recently decided to get a health check done. Having moved into his fifties, he decided that it was prudent to have a full M.O.T. physically and so enrolled for the process and was sent for a stress test. I must emphasise here that this was not prompted by any worrying symptom and that he exercised regularly by walking, cycling and golfing. It was a decision purely based on having reached that milestone age.
Expecting to get an above average report, he was shocked when the stress test was stopped less than 3 minutes into it. The nurse then asked him to sit down and take it easy while she fetched a cardiologist. As if that wasn’t enough to send his pulse rate into orbit, the cardiologist then entered with a grim face and opened the conversation by asking him if he realised that he had an irregular heartbeat. If my colleague hadn’t before, he certainly did now as he could feel an incipient heart attack.
He was given an ECG, an angiogram and then fitted with a monitor, which he had to wear for the next 24 hours. Following that he met with the cardiologist who told him that the monitor had revealed that there was no major problem and his heartbeat could be regularised with regular medication. My colleague was told that he was very healthy and that there was no reason he shouldn’t life a full lifespan.
The thing that occurred to me on hearing the story was the speed with which the cardiologist was able to come to his conclusion. By attaching the monitor in particular, the details were all quickly available to the cardiologist to enable him to quickly assess the fitness level of the patient.
Now imagine that my colleague had gone looking for a protection quote. The medical investigation would have taken many weeks to complete, if not months. Why should this be so? Granted there is a cost to major investigations, but the majority of people looking for protection policies are ordinary people with no immediate symptoms. The slowness of the process consists of the time taken getting forms completed, assessing those forms, requesting other forms on the basis of the answers and so on. Why the system should be so slow in this age when there are so many ways to get better answers on people’s health situation than merely asking them questions is hard to fathom.
Surely requesting those looking for quotes to undergo monitoring for a single 24-hour period would enable rapid assessment of their health situation. If consultants in hospitals and private clinics can assess the results and the family history that quickly, why is the process carried out by the life and pension companies so antiquated, expensive and slow?
It seems to me that future sellers of protection policies will need to move to automation more quickly. The increase in wearable technology means that the ability to get assessments for people directly, rather than by indirect questioning, is increasing. Smart glasses, smart watches, smart rings are all devices which are on the verge of breaking through into the mass market and all of these would be capable of monitoring heart-beat, stress levels, exercise rates etc. in order to provide huge amounts of raw data that could be used to assess the health of the individual being assessed.
The use of wearable technology to assess the individual’s actual health status could mean far cheaper premiums for those whose keep their health risks relatively low. And the fact that these devices are used by the consumer themselves, rather than put in place at the behest of the insurer, means that there should be little resistance to the use of the technology by those looking for life insurance.
There could be issues in terms of privacy but the purchase of the policy is a selective event and the life provider is entitled to impose whatever conditions they feel necessary. The fact that giving so much detailed information over should lead to the best possible price in the quickest possible time should be sufficient benefit for the applicant to overcome any reluctance to give such detailed information to the insurer.
No doubt future apps will also be designed to run on these devices that will give details of the emotional stress levels along with the blood pressure, heart rate and exercise levels that are currently detected. There could even be a preventative role here as, if the monitoring is ongoing, life companies could spot when trouble is looming and urge the client to take preventative action. Of course this would be in their interest as they would be avoiding a pay-out, but it would also be in the interest of the client as it would give them early warning of a possible health issue. You could certainly place your trust in any organisation that has a financial stake in keeping you alive.
Wearable technology will be incredibly useful in the area of maintaining good health and this should be of huge interest to the providers of protection policies. It will bring the kind of dramatic changes to the protection business that the ability to trade online did to the investment business. While it is still early days in the establishment of these devices, it’s an area that any protection company would be foolish not to keep a close eye on.
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