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Tackling chronic health conditions through dynamic health assessments and monitoring solutions

Each year, chronic diseases comprise 71% of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

When we take a closer look at the specific chronic health conditions contributing to these huge numbers, we find that cardiovascular diseases, stroke and complications from diabetes are among the top 10 leading causes of death. These illnesses aren't new… but it's time for us to sit up and take greater notice of how these illnesses are impacting our world, and what we can do about it.

These ballooning figures are especially alarming given we know that chronic health conditions are largely driven by lifestyles choices, and many cases are therefore preventable or at least modifiable. One example is diabetes. The number of people with diabetes will rise from 425 million today to almost 630 million by 2045, according to International Diabetes Federation. Swiss Re's recent Asia Health Protection gap research in 2018 also shows that more than 40 million households across Asia chose to forgo medical treatment of their health conditions to avoid financial stress. Not only are these facts disheartening, but they raise broader concerns for individuals, families and society at large.

Today, people diagnosed with chronic health conditions form almost half of the massive USD1.8 trillion Asian health protection gap, according to Swiss Re's research. This gap represents the amount that can be more efficiently managed through insurance, but isn't. The challenge for us is how do we work with governments and other stakeholders to close this gap. And how do we help individuals realise that while their health conditions are a very personal experience, the ripple effects of inadequate protection can be immense on the resilience of families – and societies.

Keeping pace with a highly digitalised and "datified" world

Thanks to our willingness to embrace new technology, by 2020 the number of 'smart devices' interconnected and collecting data will rise to 200 billion from just 2 billion in 2006. Consumers can now measure and monitor their own health status using non-invasive, affordable digital devices. Such smart devices are not the only sources of new data today. The Internet of Things, connectivity and our networks have given rise to a digitalised and "datafied" world – where an organisation's success is highly dependent on its capabilities to process and analyse data effectively and efficiently to deliver value back to the customer. The re/insurance industry is no exception.

Swiss Re's recent consumer research also indicates that four in five people are willing to share data from their wearables and fitness trackers with insurers in exchange for lower premiums. Hence, with more personal data collected regularly, re/insurers can now further personalise the insurance journey to better meet the evolving needs of our customers. Let's look at the example of our recent partnership with a Thai insurer – where we are now able to provide relevant insurance protection to diabetics who previously could not access insurance due to their pre-existing health conditions. Thanks to digital health management tools and the ongoing underwriting process, re/insurers can now closely monitor the person's health and adjust premiums to reflect customers' health status based on the data they provide.

The essence of dynamic health protection solutions

So, with innovative health protection solutions for new risk pools, insurers can now become a true health partner to their customers. By providing individual customers with the right incentives, such as financial rewards to get them to take action and change their lifestyle and behaviours, we can collectively achieve better health outcomes. For instance, a policyholder with diabetes who exercises more frequently and eats less processed foods can actively lower their blood glucose levels. With a regular flow of incoming medical data and a dynamic underwriting approach, the gradual improvements will mean their premiums can be adjusted to reflect their actual health status over the course of their policy.

At the same time, re/insurers are also able to leverage these large sets of anonymised data to further refine their health risk models and narrow new and emerging health protection gaps. We envision, as we receive more real-time and new sources of data from policyholders, we'll be able to transform the insurance customer journey and make it more personalised and enjoyable.

Age is just a number?

Today, most insurers focus on a customer's age at the time of underwriting his/her health risk. However, as re/insurers receive more regular individual health data, these insights will provide a much more accurate reflection of a person's real health than that indicated by their chronological age. For instance, a 50-year-old person who regularly exercises, eats healthily and doesn't smoke may have a better 'health age' than a younger person who seldom exercises, eats poorly, and smokes. This is important to right-size the premium and to put the power of choice in the hands of policyholders.

We believe that the increasing availability of alternative biometric data and rising awareness of lifestyle diseases will make the health age concept easier for re/insurers to better provide protection for customers, be it existing or new health risks for the industry, like diabetes. On this note, we look forward to working more closely with our partners, regulators and governments to close more health protection gaps and make societies more resilient.