GUEST POST BY JOANA SOUSA, CEO & COUNTRY MANAGER, CIGNA AUSTRALIA
In recent years, Australia has been navigating issues such as an increasingly ageing population, escalating pressures on the health system and climate change. These all pose long-term challenges for its economic growth, living standards and government finances.
Looking at the healthcare industry, there is increasing pressure on the health system which was already struggling to cope before the emergence of COVID-19. The pandemic has only served to magnify that pressure.
As the world looks to an uncertain year ahead, we believe that Australia’s insurance industry faces a pivotal opportunity: the chance to fulfil evolving customer needs through innovative health services solutions and working with regulators to address the current gaps in the hybrid system, gradually returning to PHI participation growth.
To achieve this in the year ahead, we expect the industry to focus on the following areas.
Shift towards telehealth services
One of the most significant changes in healthcare brought about by the pandemic is the shift from physical consultations to telehealth services. What started as a short-term solution to relieve healthcare resources through the reduction of patient screening and allow for ongoing care during lockdown and social distancing measures, has now become a long term necessity.
Across our markets, we have seen a strong increase in demand for telehealth services. Based on the latest edition of our Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact study, we also found that more than half (58%) of respondents were interested in virtual health services.
While there is no denying that human touch remains essential for emergency care and it cannot be entirely replaced by automation, a shift towards the increased use of digital solutions within the industry, as seen in the uptake in telehealth, is inevitable.
As people continue to enjoy the flexibility that virtual healthcare offers, the industry should build on this momentum and look at ways to scale digital services to meet this growing demand.
Scaling digital technology and moving towards preventive healthcare
COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the need to be prepared, particularly in relation to health. People are now taking a more engaged approach to their health cover and are motivated to seek access to the best care, to ensure that they are prepared in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
Even before the pandemic, we were already seeing a growing health and wellness trend in Australia with people wanting to lead healthier lifestyles whether it is through their diet and nutrition or lifestyle choices.
This, together with the shift in customer expectations, would require the industry to adapt, as we play an increasingly prominent role in the health of customers as life expectancy increases and health trends change.
Besides telehealth, other forms of digital technology also play an important part in this transition. Given the increasing health consciousness in Australia, data and connected devices, particularly wearables, will make it easier for the insurance industry to play an active role in shaping customer health. With such information, health insurers can provide well-timed and personalised information around diet, disease management and doctor appointments.
This presents an exciting opportunity for the industry to improve and simplify the patient experience by harnessing digital tools, as well as data analytics, to deliver a highly personalised care pathway and offer a 360 approach to care management.
Emerging stronger from the crisis through targeted health management
It is undeniable that the global pandemic has created a focus on healthcare that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of insurance.
By 2050, the number of people aged 65 to 84 years in Australia is expected to more than double. The demand for chronic care health services will only continue to grow and health systems and insurers across the region will need to adapt strategically.
With COVID-19 revolutionising the way we view healthcare, there are greater opportunities for the industry to revamp areas such as value-based patient-centric care, customer engagement, and research and development, and move towards a “prescribe and prevent” model.
We believe that the industry’s best days are ahead, in part thanks to the transformative opportunities resulting from the global pandemic. Leveraged effectively, we believe Australia’s insurance sector will emerge even stronger in the year ahead.