The next frontier in insurance
South African company LifeQ is taking the guesswork out of individual risk assessment with the help of non-invasive body monitoring devices.
picture the scenario: You decide to increase your life insurance, but during the medical screening it turns out you have high cholesterol. The insurance company overlooks the fact that you are in a much better shape than your peers or that there is no history of anybody in your family ever suffering from heart conditions. It decides to charge you a 50% premium to cover its risk of you suffering a fatal heart attack, in effect losing your business.
Fortunately, the days of blanket penalisation for specific health markers are slowly drawing to an end, thanks to the development of new technology and models enabling the individualisation of risk assessments. LifeQ is leading innovation in this field by moving beyond mere data collection – done by most wearables and health apps – to the development of mathematical models and advanced analytics that calculate and identify an individual’s health risks.
“Instead of focusing our energy on adding more applications or wearables to the market, we decided to rather use our in-depth understanding of human physiology and our computational biology skills to develop models and algorithms that add value to these applications or wearables,” says Riaan Conradie, president and co-founder of LifeQ.
Their efforts are paying off, resulting in partnerships with international giants, such as Garmin and Striiv and clients such as TomTom.
“The problem for most of the wearable and app companies is that they only roughly estimate basic information, such as calories burnt, while some of the newer, more sophisticated models are starting to measure sleep patterns. We, however, have created a platform into which body monitoring technologies can feed their data, so we can calculate and identify their users’ health risks as well as ways in which these users can adapt behaviour to reduce these risks.”
The technology can alert users to specific threats or conditions, such as diabetes, heart diseases or sleep apnoea, which Conradie estimates can reduce a person’s life expectancy by eight to 15 years. Interventions are also suggested to reduce the user’s risks. “The technology might, for example, suggest that someone rather walk than jog,” Conradie explains.
The technology is nevertheless not aimed at replacing medical practitioners: “We are not authorised to diagnose or treat diseases. People using the technology will therefore rather be guided towards the appropriate action, for example to see a doctor in their vicinity that taps into the network, for medical advice. Once a disease has been identified, the technology can again be used to continuously monitor it,” Conradie says.
LifeQ is currently primarily targeting the insurance industry. Its co-founder explains that the company’s main objective was to create a service that would reduce healthcare costs and boost personal health: “We did not position ourselves in the traditional healthcare industry as it is too focused on the treatment and not the prevention of diseases. This is extremely expensive. In America, almost 20% of the country’s GDP is spent on healthcare – that is one out of every five American dollars earned. What’s worse is that 90% of this money is spent on chronic disease, most of which is largely preventable.
“The insurance industry posed a better match, as client health has a direct impact on the prosperity of these companies. Teaming up with insurers renders our services available to more people than it would have if we were positioned in the wellness or medical market,” Conradie says.
LifeQ has already partnered with a couple of international companies in the insurance sector and is in the process of finalising an agreement with a big South African player, which should result in this type of insurance becoming available in South Africa early 2018.
He explains that an insurance company could use their services in a number of ways. They might ask a person to wear a device that links to LifeQ to identify the person’s insurance risk. The company can then lower or increase premiums depending on the evaluation outcome. The company might also agree to keep premiums at the normal rate, if the insured party agrees to keep the device on and
“We are literally in the final steps of developing a way to continuously measure blood pressure. It will be a great breakthrough, as high blood pressure has been labelled as the silent killer.”
comply with certain conditions to lower their risk of developing a specific disease.
LifeQ, in partnership with other wearable companies and analytics partners, is currently also in the process of developing models for other parameters, such as smoker detection. Conradie is however most exited about their work aimed at measuring blood pressure in real time: “We are literally in the final steps of developing a way to continuously measure blood pressure. It will be a great breakthrough, as high blood pressure has been labelled as the silent killer, especially in the elderly population. With the help of technology, it will be possible to alert people when their blood pressure gets too high.”
The company is also looking to apply computational biology modelling and analytics to other non-wearable data sources such as genetic and gut microbiome data.
This will further enhance LifeQ’s ability to estimate individual health risk, and deliver new information streams to enable disease prevention programs. “By leveraging genetics and gut microbiome data we would even be able to identify a person’s risk of developing certain hereditary diseases and see how poor gut health affects disease and the process of ageing in the individual,” Conradie explains. ■ email@example.com
Riaan Conradie President and co-founder of LifeQ