Digital Health Ecosystems Part 3: Emerging Possibilities, Unfettered Potential


This concluding part extends the narrative from insurtech orchestrators (Part-1) and pioneers like Discovery’s Vitality (Part-2) to emerging ecosystem impacts, based on examples of Manulife and John Hancock, its US subsidiary.

Customer-focused health ecosystems are being designed to seamlessly deliver the right care in the right setting at the right time. Globally, they are evolving along with the fundamental forces disrupting healthcare. Key components comprise providers, insight engines that leverage behavioral, social and health data and a connected technology backbone. While health ecosystems are significantly enabled by digital, they integrate digital and physical health services.

Developing economies are primed for rapid healthcare change, driven by shifting demographics, consumer expectations and limited infrastructure, with health ecosystems forming at unprecedented rates. Estimates reveal that in Asia alone, digital health could create $100 billion in value by 2025, up from $37 billion in 2020.

Manulife’s Ecosystem: Emerging Possibilities

Manulife has formed strategic partnerships outside traditional finance alongside in-house tech developments. Last year, the 134-year-old Toronto-based carrier struck a five-year partnership with Vietnam’s Cong Dong Bau, which operates an online community of 5 million young mothers providing financial advice and digital tools. The collaboration allows members a holistic look at family planning, leveraging combined expertise in financial and parenting advice.

In 2019, Manulife invested in, China’s leading online medical platform with 210,000 registered doctors. Customers avail services from Haodf such as tele-consultations, appointments, expert opinion and comprehensive treatment, while Manulife provides tailor-made protection to meet the needs of Haodf’s 56+ million users.

Around 70% of customers active on Vitality Manulife Move app in Asia repeatedly return every month, with half reporting BMI reduction. The high engagement is influenced by rewards, enabled by partners, such as dacadoo (Swiss-based digital health platform) delivering health scores and Singapore-based Rewardz offering new ways of rewarding active customers. The insurer has joined with Apple to use their wearables and sway policyholder health, to ultimately cut costs.

Manulife has invested $750 million in digital transformation initiatives, driving improvements in automated underwriting, digital claims, and straight through processing.

Health Ecosystems: Unfettered Potential

Companies such as John Hancock and Vitality USA have at their disposal, tools to protect consumers from chronic diseases and contagions.

A 2010 British study estimated that Type-2 diabetes reduces life expectancy by nearly 10 years, while Type-1 by 20 years. Hancock’s pitch to diabetics for its wellness program is that they’re overpaying based on peer behavior and when they engage in the program, premiums drop. The company charges a nominal $2 fee for their device, using behavioral economics insights that paying individuals feel a greater obligation to continue. Non-participants who vow to eat right or go to the gym aren’t charged extra, but instead pay population-based premiums. With chronic diseases rising, Hancock is targeting other conditions.

For COVID-19, employers with Vitality USA programs sent blood oximeters to high-risk enrollees. They reported that seniors who exercised four times per week had similar mortality risk as 45-year-olds who exercised once per week.

As companies use heart rate data from digital devices to verify exercise levels, they are connected to an ”Internet of Bodies” – through sensors. Researchers at Fitbit —available to Hancock’s participants — reported that they could use Fitbit data to detect half of COVID-19 cases a day before onset of symptoms. Vitality participant activity and shopping patterns were found to change the same way when COVID-19 surged in communities.

Health ecosystems increasingly cater to needs of diverse patient groups. The consumer-oriented nature expands the number of touchpoints, engendering behavior and outcome improvements. A wide swathe of players are refining their approach to health ecosystems—healthcare incumbents such as insurers, providers and also non-traditional entrants. Ecosystems have the potential to impact lives across geographies and care conditions, learning from the likes of Discovery and Manulife.

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