From remote treatment to instant claims decisions, advisers can expect clients to demand next-level service from private medical insurers - not tomorrow but today - writes Vitality chief medical & healthcare officer, Dr Ali Hasan
The threat of Covid-19 and the upheaval caused by the pandemic have put health and wellbeing in the spotlight like never before. Within this new landscape, we are witnessing first-hand a healthcare revolution; a clear vision of the future that sees prevention and wellness deeply integrated into patients' healthcare journeys in an empowering, digitally-enabled setting.
Most prominently, we've seen the adoption of digital health technology accelerate rapidly. Prior to the pandemic, remote healthcare utilisation was relatively limited in the health system, although remote GP consultations - introduced by Vitality as a fully integrated option to the private medical insurance (PMI) market in 2015 - had become more common.
In the earliest phase of the pandemic, years of change took place in the space of weeks. The escalating risk of Coronavirus meant that providers and patients rapidly transitioned en masse to digital approaches. As a result, we've seen three healthcare trends emerge over the past 15 months or so.
Intelligently designed products underpinned by sophisticated operating systems and smart technology is – quite rightly – the direction of travel for health insurers, but innovation should not and does not need to end there."
Firstly, there has been a huge increase in the use of digital healthcare. The majority of interactions in NHS primary care are now remote, and the number of Vitality GP video consultations our members access has doubled.
A materially larger proportion of specialist care also involves a remote consultation, even in an environment where hospitals have worked hard and invested millions to minimise the risks of Covid-19.
Secondly, there has been greater increase in health insurance customers and self-pay healthcare, witnessed in our own growth and the discussions we have with providers. Recognising challenges around healthcare access and large demands on the health system, more patients appear to be inclined to fund care than prior to the pandemic.
Customers will continue to expect a choice of care options and high-quality healthcare. Therefore, the value of comprehensive health insurance products remains paramount, alongside the availability of more cost-effective options that cater for a diverse range of healthcare needs.
Thirdly, customers will expect the digital dividend from the pandemic to continue - and their needs and desires will be reflected in expectations around choice. While recognising that the pandemic has led to longer waits for healthcare, going forward they will be keen to seek access more quickly where possible.
Many more customers will prefer the rapid, convenient option of telemedicine, which removes transit and waiting times, although some will prefer the reassurance of a face-to-face consultation.
The future, now
What all this means is that customers will expect fast, seamless access to everything their health plan offers, all in one place. They'll want instant decisions on care requests or to track their progress; to arrange a GP consultation directly and book a consultation from a network of specialists using an online finder.
When customers are seeking care, they will expect primary care, self-referral and self-management pathways which empower them to access the right treatment as quickly and as easily as possible.
Private medical insurance (PMI) members will increasingly look to health insurance providers to allow them to refer themselves for physiotherapy and mental health therapy via a digital care hub, while having access to a range of preventative and wellness services such as menopause support, cancer checks and Covid-19 testing for themselves and their family.
Plan information, such as benefit levels and excess, will need to be available on demand and at a click of a button, and a fully digital end-to-end claims journey will allow members to initiate and obtain instant authorisation while online.
The evolution is ongoing
Intelligently designed products underpinned by sophisticated operating systems and smart technology is - quite rightly - the direction of travel for health insurers, but innovation should not and does not need to end there.
Understanding data and how the clinical benefits of positive behavioural change as part of ill-health prevention is destined to remain a priority for the leaders in this field.
Having access to the right data and knowing how this can be used to influence the lifestyle decisions people make is the most fundamental part of supporting behaviour change in a meaningful way. The majority of chronic disease is driven by lifestyle factors and behaviours which are generally legal, accessible, and damaging in excess.
There is also often a gap between individuals' perceptions of their health, their actual health, and how different this is to norms - in the broadest sense.
Recognising this gap is the first step towards the improvement and maintenance of better health, and knowing how to support people in their journey to change habits and behavioural cues to unhealthy behaviours is critical to also reducing the disease burden people accumulate over months and years.
The best type of health insurance claim is one that is prevented. This is why Vitality utilises behavioural science as well as an ongoing wealth of data to empower people to take charge of their health and look after their wellbeing.
By encouraging members to engage daily in a programme through a range of incentives, we aim to increase life expectancy and the number of years lived in good health in way that can help reduce the risks associated with aging and chronic conditions. The benefits of this are reflected widely; it's good for society and our health service thanks to the potential of less demand and is also good for the economy through a more engaged and productive workforce.
Look no further: the future of health insurance is now.
Dr Ali Hasan is chief medical and healthcare officer at Vitality
 Vitality data - first four months of 2021 vs. the same period in 2020 GP consultations are up 75% and compared to 2019 they are up 104%
 Vitality sales data - current financial year vs previous one