Blog: The shift in healthcare delivery - how can insurers respond to changing customer needs?

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The provision of healthcare is about to change beyond recognition. Tim Boyce, healthcare team leader at CFC Underwriting, explains how technology is set to transform the way medical professionals treat patients and develop cures.

Developments in technology are paving the way for massive changes in the NHS, and not before time. With the UK population projected to grow by 5.5% over the coming decade, the NHS has to embrace digital innovation in order to meet the ever-growing demand for its services.

As part of a whole chapter in its long-term plan, a new joint unit, NHSX, will be created to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician. This will combine the best talent from the government, NHS and industry to create the most advanced healthcare service in the world. 

This new emphasis on digital healthcare will open the doors for local and global digital health companies alike. In the UK so far, an increasing number of organisations are operating in the telemedicine space, linking up with practitioners to introduce apps enabling mobile communications between GP’s and patients. The next logical stage in the digital healthcare evolution is the introduction of artificial intelligence into apps to triage patient conditions.

However, as the worlds of healthcare and technology converge to deliver huge potential benefits to patients, there are associated risks affecting both patients and healthcare providers. Problems with digital technology could lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate prescriptions being provided.

AI technology can only ever be as good as its human input, whether that’s the data the programme is exposed to, or the code itself. If its programmers do not fully understand the nature of disease, there is potential for false positive and false negative errors. If there is an error in the AI, how long until it is identified? It could be days, months or even years – in healthcare these delays could have deadly consequences.

AI-driven chatbots, which could certainly replace the NHS 111 helpline, are a cause for concern as well. Recently a BBC report highlighted issues with chatbots giving negligent advice to children, creating potential for malpractice.

Data privacy is another big concern. The NHS has a spotty track record with digital initiatives thus far. In 2016, the records of 1.6 million patients were inappropriately shared between the NHS and Google’s AI subsidiary, Deepmind, during the early stages of app testing. Care will need to be taken over the proper collection, storage and transfer of data, particularly following General Data Protection Regulation.

So, what does this all mean for the insurability of practitioners and companies embracing digital health? In short, it’s problematic.

Traditional medical malpractice policy triggers have remained static, despite the global rise of technology within healthcare. Technology errors and omissions insurers will only extend to losses arising from technology activities and are loathe to offer any form of bodily injury. Cyber insurers explicitly exclude all forms of bodily injury.

There is currently a dearth of affirmative coverage for traditional healthcare providers and digital health companies alike, resulting in grey areas being present within insurance placements – and the knock-on effect being finger-pointing between insurers over the proximate causation of loss: was it a healthcare incident, technology error or cyber event? Absent any case law and despite the litany of disclaimers, insureds will be required to pay three different deductibles and may even run the risk of having no coverage. The debate will then intensify about who makes the ultimate decision on patient care – the technology or the traditional healthcare provider?

With these sentiments in mind, the insurance industry is on the cusp of a more modernised approach for healthcare providers. As the shift in healthcare delivery continues, it will be increasingly crucial for brokers to advise their clients of these potential pitfalls in standard insurance policies and to source bespoke insurance products tailored to meet clients’ changing needs and demands.

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