Healthcare Insurance Industry Threatened by Technology

The international healthcare insurance industry is under threat from digital healthcare that enables us to detect cause and effect before we get sick, a British science and technology writer has warned.

Tom Standage, digital editor of the Economist, was talking at the recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) World in Beta conference, where he predicted, “data meets healthcare” would become one of the five “emerging technologies” that will shape the world in the future, and have a huge impact on the international health insurance industry.

Using a chart to prove his point, Standage said the first human genomes (including DNA) had taken more than $3 billion to sequence – in a decade; but it now takes $1,000 to do the same in less than a 48 hours period of time. This has had an enormous impact on the correlation of genes and diseases, and clearly on the healthcare insurance industry as well.

Healthcare Insurance IndustryDrawing attention to digital devices we can wear, like Apple watches, Standage said in his address that it was now possible to identify susceptibility to disease and, by identifying probable symptoms, allow people to pre-empt illnesses. While the healthcare insurance industry was founded on assuming we will all get sick at some stage, but we don’t know when, this new, digitally based approach helps keep people well. This is, in itself, a much cheaper way of doing things.

He said that the traditional healthcare insurance industry approach meant that people who were identified as being susceptible to certain illnesses would become uninsurable. This, in turn, would mean that healthy individuals who because they weren’t sick wouldn’t need to pay anything, would ultimately end up paying “compulsory risk pooling”. He equated this to a national health type medical system; one that is well know in the UK and Europe, but which is a “political kryptonite” in the USA where the healthcare insurance industry is well established, if controversial.

How Drug Companies Affect the Healthcare Insurance Industry

Standage identified a paradigm shift that has been made by certain drug companies, largely due to a failure their drugs are working for everyone.

For instance GlaxoSmith Kline (GSK) made a drug for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) that affects the central nervous system. This drug only had an affect on about a quarter of the people tested, and so the US National Health Service (NHS) wasn’t willing to buy it. In an attempt to change the way the healthcare insurance industry would normally react, GSK said payment would only be required for patients who found the drug worked.

This, maintained Standage, was like selling an outcome rather than a drug. It was the data, he said, that would become “really valuable” because it would now be possible to “predict and optimize”, and then sell a service and outcome instead of just “a thing”.

And this is what he predicts is going to have a really major impact on the international healthcare insurance industry. Why? The focus will become prevention instead of cure or treatment.

Not Everyone Agrees the Healthcare Insurance Industry is Threatened by Technology

While there are undoubtedly important developments in the health industry, not everybody agrees with Tom Standage’s prediction

The founder of a blog titled Health Insight, 3G doctor, David Doherty is particularly critical, and he stated in response to Standage’s talk that many overestimate just how much health care providers are able to force people to change their behaviour.

If the health insurance business model is indeed disrupted as Standage predicts, Doherty believes a lot of lawyers will get rich, and this won’t necessarily affect the healthcare insurance industry at all.