EXCLUSIVE: “Flush with Ideas” – Stuart Thomas in ‘The Insurtech Magazine’
Stuart Thomas salutes a product that could give insurers some (very private) clues to our health
The Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) annual trade show is the geek gathering of the year. From lunar terrain vehicles to smart bird feeders, it runs the gamut of disruption, featuring products that are beyond-blue-sky as well as the more banal.But one particular exhibit at this year’s event in Las Vegas got me thinking about the increasingly important relationship between tech – specifically medtech – and insurance. It was, you might say, a moment of relief.
And here’s why.
We are not just teetering on the precipice of a new world where medtech and insurtech walk hand in hand, we are hurtling towards it at breakneck speed. The medical profession was for a long time locked behind a wall of knowledge, but with the hive mind that we call ‘the internet’, and AI technology on almost every device that we own, doctors are no longer the gatekeepers to information about our bodies. Instead, it’s the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry putting up the walls, hiding medtech behind unreasonably inflated costs. In America, getting your heart checked with an electrocardiogram costs nearly $500 if you’re unlucky enough not to have insurance.
But the consumerisation of medtech has started to shake things up, driven by technology companies capitalising on our desire for reliable home diagnostics at an affordable price. There are new devices like the FreeStyle Libre 2, a connected diabetes monitor that anyone can purchase for around £50, or the Ortiv diabetes tester, which instead of using needles to draw blood, utilises a high-powered precision laser for testing.
“This device sits inside the toilet bowl and analyses your urine…”
Although these devices are becoming cheaper and direct-to-consumer, they reportsare niche. Smartwatches however have reached a much wider audience in health and wellbeing. Steps are counted, heart rates are measured, blood oxygen levels are recorded. You can take an electrocardiogram and even see how many times you’ve rolled over in your sleep. And all of this is digitised into tangible data that we can act upon. The internet is littered with stories about how smartwatches have led to the diagnoses of severe illness, such as that of David Last, who noticed that over a few weeks, his smartwatch recorded a heart rate below 30bpm an alarming amount of times. On visiting his doctor, David discovered that he had a life-threatening, third-degree heart block, which doctors were able to treat. Amazing as this story is, smartwatches are still limited to sensors outside the body, and rely on algorithms to fill in the gaps.
When we go to our doctor with a serious complaint, they’ll certainly use smartwatch data, but they’ll also look at two other things that would be impractical for a smartwatch to take – your blood and urine, both of which are unreadable without a laboratory… that is, until now. The Withings U-Scan, has been making a huge ’splash’ in the medtech world since its introduction at the CTA’s Consumer Electronics Show in January.
This hockey-puck-sized device sits inside the toilet bowl and analyses your urine for hydration and nutrients as indicators of your lifestyle, sharing reports and recommendations based on its readings to your phone.But how could this impact insurtech? Companies like Vitality are already using data from smartwatches to tailor insurance products and are offering financial incentives to consumers who keep to an activity goal. It wouldn’t be too hard to think of ways that data from U-Scan could be used to make assumptions about the customer when tailoring insurance products.
Data such as alcohol content, hydration levels and even nutrition could all be used as indicators of risk for the insurer, allowing for better assumptions and more tailored products. Although no company is yet leveraging this advanced technology, it’s only a small leap from where we are now. And, as more medtech that was once confined to a lab is consumerised, insurers would be foolish to ignore the immense opportunity to improve pricing, avoid risk, and build better relationships with customers through its adoption.
This article was published in The Insurtech Magazine Issue 09, Page 38
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