Wearables Q&A with Kelvyn Young

Swiss Re Institute recently hosted a conference on wearables to discuss the latest developments and solutions. We caught up with Kelvyn Young, Head of L&H Partnerships at Swiss Re, to get his view on how insurers are using wearables data and the importance of health ecosystems.

What are the most relevant health data that insurers can cull from wearables and health apps?

It depends on if you are looking at consumer grade wearables or medical grade devices. The likes of Fitbit and Garmin are consumer grade devices that people use to track steps, activity and sleep. Medical grade devices track more granular and broader health vital information. When we're looking at solutions for wearables, we tend to look at solutions linked to consumer grade wearables that are on the market and that people actually use.

The data points that insurers are looking at are varied but include items like activity; steps and heart rate, and to a lesser extent sleep. There are other factors such as mood and eating patterns that could potentially be tracked from devices.

Do you see a shift from health/fitness wearables to medical grade wearables?

We are definitely seeing a shift. Consumer grade wearables are starting to resemble medical grade wearables in that they are now able to collect more accurate health vital information. For example, Apple announced it is adapting its consumer grade devices to monitor hypertension and diabetes.

At the conference, you mentioned that Swiss Re has a number of projects that it is pursuing. Could you elaborate on this? 

We've worked on a wellness proposition with a company called GOQii in India, which is integrated into an insurance product allowing customers to get access to a wearable device. They are also assigned a health coach who gives advice on different health goals. Customers are also eligible for points and rewards as well as premium discounts based on their behaviour. We've also been working with a company in the US called Striiv, which monitors heart irregularities. Customers only need to wear the device for 14 days before sending it back. Striiv produces a report based on the data and informs customers if they have any potential heart problems. Based on the results, Striiv encourages individuals to see a doctor. We believe that early detection will result in healthier policyholders and fewer claims.

We're also looking at the science around managing diabetes. In a population, potentially 5% of people have type 2 diabetes, and about 10-15% have pre-diabetes. Because these numbers are growing exponentially, we've partnered with a company called Gro Health. They have been successful at improving health outcomes like weight; A1C; blood pressure and cholesterol. In fact, over 30% of their customers have put their type 2 diabetes into remission. We're actively looking to roll that solution out to our clients to manage their inforce portfolios with more engaged policyholders and lower claims costs.

We've been exploring the move towards personalized health and risk scoring as well. For example, can we use wearable data to predict health? Can we use it to potentially underwrite individuals without having to ask a number of questions? Is wearable data a good predictor for mortality and morbidity? We're working with a number of vendors that have algorithms that may help us in this area. We are checking the robustness of their risk scoring to see if we can embed it into our insurance propositions.

How important are health ecosystems? How are they helping Swiss Re close the protection gap and improve societal resilience?

They're very important. The insurance industry is moving away from older models of limited touch points with the policyholder to lifetime engagement and touchpoints. We want to build an ecosystem that allows us to have regular interactions with policyholders. We can then help them better assess their health, support with interventions and predict disease as part of our goal to create better health management outcomes.

Our partnership with Gro Health is an example of that. If we can assess whether you've got prediabetes or the propensity to potentially get type 2 diabetes, we can offer relevant health management solutions. This whole ecosystem of personalized health and having regular interaction with our policyholders potentially reduces their premiums as their health improves over time. This move to more personalised health solutions along with opportunities to open to new risk pools is very important to help close the protection gap.

To what extent are wearables data available to insurers in emerging markets? 

I'd say at the moment the data is relatively scarce. There are a few insurers that have relatively evolved wellness propositions where wearable data is integrated. We have run a number of projects that focus on wellness and wearable data. We've done some analysis on the data to show how we can improve customer retention and underwriting for example.

What are the regulatory concerns about the sharing of health data in various regions?

Data protection is key. New regulations are coming into effect such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). A number of markets are now applying GDPR or GDPR principles. In many discussions with insurers or vendors the question of data privacy, security and protection is raised. It's important that we're fully compliant with all data laws, regulations and principles.

In terms of challenges, what obstacles still need to be overcome?

I think there are a few, obviously data is one of them. Both data privacy but also how we use and interpret the data is a challenge that's still evolving. We're continually building our own models, I wouldn't say the industry has robust models for these new data points. If you look at mortality and morbidity tables, they've been established and proven over many years. But these new data points, these new models and what they mean for mortality, morbidity and disease prediction are still being developed.

On the wearables themselves, it's still unclear how the consumers are going to use them. We don't yet know if they are going to become an established part of everyday use. Very often consumers buy a wearable device and then just put it in the drawer after a few weeks of wearing it. So the sustainability of devices and the value that they add to the consumer are still evolving.

Looking into the future, what are some of the potentially radical ideas about wearables? 

Wearables are moving beyond just wrist devices. For example, there are now wearables in clothing, there are chips that can be implanted under the skin and more and more, they are being used to indicate a forward disease state and make predictions. They may even help dispense some of the drugs that patients need. I'm excited about these types of initiatives and solutions. In the future, will everybody have this small implanted chip that indicates and manages their health status? Only time will tell.