Does wearable technology affect your medical aid claims?

The explosion in digital products is undeniable from the way in which we communicate to the way in which we commute and now also maintain a healthy lifestyle through the aid of wearable technology. With wearable technology aimed at monitoring an array of health aspects becoming more commonplace, Moneybags writer Danielle Van Wyk, looks at whether medical aids can use the information gathered to refuse claims.

“Rising investment, as much as 4.2 billion during 2016, is also expected to within the next few years reinvent the way medicine is practiced. The result, reducing workloads and overall healthcare costs five-fold, speeding up diagnoses by the same margin and saving billions of rand,” states Dr Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health.

Discovery’s HealthID app is a perfect example of such innovation. “The technology gives participating doctors access to a complete view of their patients’ health history and test results, so improving care, lowering the likelihood of serious medical errors in treatment and reducing duplicate or unnecessary tests,” Dr Ryan Noach, deputy CEO of Discovery Health, adds. “Wearable and ingestible devices that monitor and transmit data in real-time can track systems as varied as gut health, heartrate, stress and insulin levels, activity levels and more. These new technologies empower patients to take responsibility for their health and enable doctors and caregivers to intervene almost instantly.”

Can medical aids use this information against you?

The sharing of such important and intimate data with your medical aid may have you feeling uncomfortable and questioning whether this may have an impact on your premiums. But according to Momentum Health’s head of marketing, Damian McHugh, the answer is no.

“The use of such data is really powerful, and allows us to acutely gain insight into trends amongst our members,” highlights McHugh, “ the aim with wearable technology and the gathering of this data is all in the name of prevention. If we can avert a heart attack in one or help to better the lifestyle habits of another, we are doing our job. Our aim will never be to penalise members on their habits by denying claims or hiking their premiums.”

McHugh added that the same way medical aids are not allowed to base premiums on your lifestyle habits or choices, is the same way they are not allowed to deny any claims on this basis either.

Quite a bit of money is being pushed into studies around wearable medical technology these days, but medical aids are far from requiring members to make use of these devices.

“Firstly I think making the wearing of this tech compulsory would border on being illegal, and honestly I think medical aids still have far too much researching to do in terms of this tech and the information it gives us access to,” McHugh assures.

The uptake on this tech however has been remarkable as medical schemes through their tailored rewards programmes have encouraged quite a large percentage of their base to get healthier through making use of fitness tracking devices like FitBit and Apple watches. “This is often due to the fact that you are more accountable to yourself, as you have physical targets to meet and you find yourself comparing your stats to friends, colleagues and family in challenging yourself to do better,” McHugh explains. Another motivation is that of the rewards that these programmes like Discovery’s Vitality and Momentum’s Multiply offer. From Kauai vouchers to gym discounts and cash back, these programmes are driving people to get active. This then has the additional benefit of a reduction in overall claims.

Broomberg adds that these digital tools are also empowering patients about their care and the quality of care they receive. “Discovery Health’s fastest-growing digital innovation, the Discovery Health Medical Scheme Smart Plan, (40 000 members), pointed patients to a network of GPs, specialists and hospitals who had shown themselves to be more efficient, with better outcomes. The claims cost within these networks had come down by 28%. A patient ratings tool also allowed members to rate the healthcare services they received and was already resulting in some hospital scores improving, especially where they fed data back to their staff.”

The use of medical technology to improve the general health of people is an evolving concept and industry, but one that is motivated to seeing you live longer, not pay more.