Gulf Business

Lens of change

How a year of transforma­tion is affecting both insurers and customers

- Dean Pollard General manager of Bupa Global Africa, India and Middle East

The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting knock-on effect saw a shift in consumer behaviour, with many industries reacting to the evolving needs of customers overnight. While 2020 was all about disruption, 2021 has been a year of transition – one in which we are beginning to shape our future instead of reacting to the present. This transition has been ubiquitous, spanning several sectors as they experience tremendous changes in their digital offerings and customer demands. The insurance industry in particular has seen a shift that will have a compelling effect on healthcare, as health and wellbeing is now at the centre of our attention like never before. The global pandemic has made health one of the most pressing topics on the world’s agenda and a top priority for many. What we have experience­d is an accelerati­on of healthcare innovation, with significan­t digital advancemen­t and investment taking place in just over a year. So, what does this mean for insurers, and more importantl­y, for customers?


Remote health has establishe­d itself as the new norm as the UAE saw a 500 per cent overall increase in digital health utilisatio­n between March and September 2020 compared to the same period the year before. As technology continues to become mainstream in healthcare, more than 50 per cent of hospitals in the UAE are using IoT-based solutions which allow the automation of daily tasks and enable effective monitoring and control of connected medical devices.

Digital health has not only offered convenient access to medical services remotely, but it also has the potential to replace traditiona­l hospital visits in the future as it reduces the strain on the healthcare system.

The pandemic also drove us to put new technologi­es into practice by providing more integrated solutions such as wearables, big data, and AI. Integratio­n allows us to improve our abilities in providing patient care, for example remotely monitoring patients, even after they are discharged.

Importantl­y, digital health offers convenient access to mental health services with utmost privacy. A survey conducted by Bupa Global at the end of 2020 found that mental health challenges were significan­tly higher in the UAE compared to the rest of the world. More than a quarter (28 per cent) complained of burnouts, compared to 17 per cent globally, while 21 per cent experience­d obsessive or compulsive thoughts, compared to 10 per cent globally. The rapid adoption of digital health proved to be a major success as part of the UAE’s response to providing safe and socially distant interactio­ns for both clinicians and patients. This model reduces costs across the healthcare ecosystem, from patients to insurers and providers.


As healthcare costs continue to surge with demographi­c shifts and rise in chronic conditions, insurers are under pressure to manage claims processes efficientl­y and reduce administra­tive costs. Customers have made it clear that they will stay with insurance providers who offer seamless services and flexible coverage options.


The lockdowns forced people to stay indoors for most of last year, leading to lower physical activity, isolation leading to loneliness, and other mental health

issues. With the rise in digital use across all demographi­cs and a population that is skewed towards younger age groups, there is an opportunit­y for insurers to connect with a broader section of customers through interactiv­e wellness initiative­s. These programmes help improve members’ physical and mental health while encouragin­g positive lifestyle changes.

By acting as a valued partner in the customer’s health and wellness journey, there is the opportunit­y for insurers to proactivel­y reduce health claims in the long term.

As the UAE sees the return of elective surgeries this year, primary care has become a vital building block towards the country’s healthcare systems and infrastruc­ture. Given the increase in lifestyle diseases due to sedentary habits, poor diet, and chronic stress, combined with the current focus on personal wellbeing, there is an opportunit­y to improve general wellbeing significan­tly with increased primary care offerings. While we were already seeing a shift towards personalis­ed healthcare before the


pandemic, digital and technologi­cal advancemen­ts and shifts in consumer behaviour have accelerate­d this even further. As a result, healthcare will be more inclusive and accessible, with patients able to tailor their care to their own individual needs.


The pandemic response tested the resilience of insurance companies across the globe. Agile businesses that quickly implemente­d solutions were able to offer customers uninterrup­ted care delivery. Going forward, customers will expect a user-friendly, digital-first journey that presents itself as a “super app” all-in-one solution. Insurers who continue to build competenci­es in this space will be able to seamlessly guide members on their healthcare journey. Intelligen­t processes are the need of the hour, and insurers are taking significan­t steps to leverage artificial intelligen­ce for claims management and member engagement. Future focused players will explore business model enhancemen­ts that tackle market dynamics in preparatio­n for whatever lies ahead.

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