With a focus on providing doctors in the UK and abroad with a dedicated service, Dominic Howard speaks to Lucy Quinton about his determination to take a good idea to the next level
For a man who confesses to having been at a barn dance the night before this interview, Dominic Howard, director at Best Doctors for UK and Ireland, is the shy and retiring type. He does, however, have a genuine passion for the insurance industry.
A strong believer in the family ethos, similar to other key industry figures who have looked to carrying on in the footsteps of their elders, Howard's father played a significant role in his career choice – initially working in banking and then moving over to captive insurance.
Howard confesses that he initially contemplated going in to something far more glamorous, such as advertising, when he was at St Andrew's University. However, its pretentious nature did not suit the well-mannered Roman Catholic, and the fact he studied medieval history and fine art seemed a more natural progression to the insurance arena.
Howard began his first job at Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) inspired by the opportunity to go on secondment to another country, which turned out to be Hong Kong – although he ended up in Bahrain later. He worked as a broker in various divisions at JLT, such as employee benefits and then accident and health.
Clearly accustomed to high stress levels, Howard experienced a change of job from broking to underwriting, moved houses and became a father all in the space of a few months. His new role required diplomacy, as he was a mediator between brokers and the underwriting community. He describes this as the most challenging part of his career because both professions are so protective over what they do.
He originally came across Best Doctors when he was working for Combined Insurance Company of America, and was attracted by its product innovation. "I thought it was the best thing I had seen, and it's the best product I have ever come across," he says. "I was so impressed, that I sold it to the UK part of the company I was working for and it is still a client." Howard adds that such a deal put him firmly on Best Doctors' radar, and he eventually decided it was time for another change and went to work for the company.
Howard's career has, broadly speaking, been mainly in the insurance arena, with the only change at Best Doctors being that he is now focusing on the UK and Ireland as opposed to the international side of the operation, which suits him owing to family commitments. Best Doctors – which is an international firm that allows doctors to find other doctors in the world to perform treatments or provide a second opinion for their patients – is built on the premise that doctors should complete a database based on who they would want to treat themselves or a member of family should they become ill. Globally, a lot of the business that Best Doctors conducts is direct to employers, although it is also heavily dominated by insurers and banks.
Howard says the difference between the UK and the US is that the users in the US are employers as opposed to insurers, which also happens to be the case in Canada. Apart from this, Howard explains that there is little difference between the two nations. He says that there is an increased desire for information on people's health on both sides of the Atlantic.
There is a slight variation between countries due to the NHS in the UK, as it means people have the facility to get a second opinion. "However, what the NHS does and what we do is completely different. We refer to what we provide as an expert medical review – we take the original diagnostics and look at the case inside-out, and that attention to detail is just something that a lot of people don't get," he explains.
With the NHS, a second opinion could mean a doctor suggesting another doctor examine a patient without the original doctor really knowing whether the second is sufficiently informed. The difference with Best Doctors is that a range of doctors are available who have been selected as the very best in their specialist subject.
When Best Doctors first came to the market, Bupa immediately spotted its potential but there was no one on the ground at Best Doctors. The nature of the service is that it is remote – it breaks down barriers, suggesting that information does not have to come from the same region or continent.
"As markets become more important to Best Doctors, there is more of a need to have someone on the ground. One of the fundamental things we wanted to ensure was that our existing clients were getting the attention they need and deserve, and that the correct infrastructure is in place not just to service the existing business but to expand it," he explains, adding that his job at the firm is to protect the existing business and to build.
The protection market, in the context of a business, is driven by re-insurers and rates. "A lot of similar themes are constantly coming up, such as definitions, price, innovation, the percentage of claims that is paid and the protection gap," he says of the industry.
Howard believes that greater awareness of products like income protection (IP) is needed to improve the market. He says that, unfortunately, people are in a spend culture, making the need for financial protection greater.
"If we genuinely believe in this market that something like IP as a product is important, isn't this something that should be taken up at a governmental level? Or is there a way the industry as a whole could contribute to some fund or marketing organisation that can do a generic job in making people aware of it?,"he says.
Howard points out that there are still companies in the market that provide lip service to the idea of giving customers value for money. Similarly, that there are some value-added benefits that are of no value whatsoever, and are there to enable an insurer to feel as if it is providing that little bit extra.
Best Doctors can help the protection industry under the ethos of Treating Customers Fairly by supplying information to help individuals either save their lives or dramatically improve their quality, Howard suggests. From insurers' perspectives, if they have happy policyholders, consumers will continue to do business with them and sales people will find it gratifying.
One of the areas that Best Doctors is particularly strong on in the US – but may be not so strong in the UK – is claims management. "If we can provide the best clinical information available and not limit it to any particular region, there's a good chance that it is not just beneficial for claimants but also for treating doctors," he adds.
During the next few years, Best Doctors is aiming to expand in the UK and Ireland, and to become "a standard" as far as service is concerned within the next five years.
The biggest challenge Howard points to, however, is awareness. In addition, he says that the evolution of the firm will involve making it available at the consumer level. Meanwhile, the next stage is developing an online service, which will be piloted in the coming months.
Howard clearly has his work cut out for him during the next few years, but the powers that be at Best Doctors need not worry.
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