Bupa's Alex Perry discusses the latest research and developments in its musculoskeletal care.
Private health insurance in the UK stands at a major crossroads. In one direction, rising costs of healthcare and the implications of an aging population mean that an affordability crunch is happening where some consumers are voting with their feet and abandoning cover.
In the other lies an opportunity - customers' needs are changing and they increasingly want healthcare at a time and place that suits them.
This means, health insurers need to adapt to meet these changing needs and at the same time demonstrate to people the benefit of having health insurance.
This is an area where Bupa is making major inroads, particularly in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions.
People are leading increasingly busy lives, so the traditional model of seeing your GP when experiencing muscle or joint pain, before being referred to a consultant can delay necessary treatment for some patients.
In fact, a new survey carried out by Bupa found that a quarter of UK adults with muscle, bone or joint pain would delay seeing their doctor by at least a month and one in five wouldn't consider seeing their doctor at all.
While trying to "grin and bear it" is very much a British trait (and for the majority of people with a twinge or a niggling pain after a gym session - a reasonable action), for some people this is not the case and quick access to professional advice and treatment is key.
While UK adults appear to be living with musculoskeletal pain, official statistics show the true scale of the problem in Britain.
The UK loses a staggering 31 million working days a year to musculoskeletal conditions such as muscle, bone and joint pain making it the number one cause of workplace absence.
So, to meet customers' demand for fast, convenient access to healthcare and advice, Bupa developed a physiotherapy self-referral telephone service. This gives our customers immediate and direct access to a specialist advisor.
Our investment in making expert care more accessible compliments modern busy lifestyles and has been strongly welcomed by those who call us - 97% are satisfied and say they would recommend the service to others.
But in taking a more responsive approach we haven't just better matched expectations, it has also had a positive effect on patient outcomes.
Bupa's internal data found that customers suffering from muscle, bone and joint conditions who used their physiotherapy self-referral telephone service experienced on average a 30% reduction in the need for surgery.
In fact, by getting in early and helping our customers see off problems one in ten (10%) don't need to see a physiotherapist at all, following specialist advice such as rest or exercises that can be done at home.
Through the self-referral telephone service or our specialist patient support teams, customers can also have a consultation with an MSK physician.
We are already seeing benefits from this service too. One in every 10 patients who sees an MSK physician avoid an operation that they otherwise would have had to undergo.
Through this kind of proactive approach to helping our customers stay well, Bupa is helping to make healthcare more accessible as well as demonstrating to people the benefit to having health insurance.
However, the sector needs to do more than this and must drastically reform if it is to have a sustainable future.
The only we way can truly improve the outlook for our sector is by delivering greater volume growth, bringing more people into our market. Business as usual is not an option.
That is why Bupa remains committed to urging funders, commissioners and providers to work together to help deliver more affordable, accessible healthcare.
Our long-term agreement with Spire hospitals shows how together we can find a better way forward - we will be looking to work with our other hospital providers in a similar way.
Together we can bring in a new reality of quality, transparency, value and growth but we still have a long way to go.
Alex Perry is general manager at Bupa
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