Emerging risks threaten digital health sector

The drive towards the use of digital health services in the wake of the lockdown restrictions imposed during the current pandemic is creating a new breed of emerging risks for healthcare risk managers.

In a new white paper broker Willis Towers Watson it warns the Covid-19 pandemic and worldwide trend towards the digitisation of medicine is resulting in rapid technological change. This in turn has created emerging risk issues and may result in healthcare risk managers reassessing risk liabilities.

The White Paper into the Future of Digital Health identifies some of the key exposures which need to be considered when reviewing insurance policies in the digital health sector.  These include exposures which require coverage for bodily injury and economic loss, regulated and unregulated products, products and services often provided in cooperation with or at the direction of medical professionals.

Kirsten Beasley, Head of Healthcare Broking, North America, Willis Towers Watson, said “The pandemic has propelled digital health onto the global stage, as healthcare providers around the world seek to leverage technology to help combat the crisis. This digital health revolution will profoundly and permanently reshape how healthcare is accessed and provided so it is imperative that the insurance market consider how to provide integrated solutions that more seamlessly address emerging digital health perils.”

The White Paper also calls for the insurance market to consider an alternative holistic approach to insurance as against traditional healthcare policies.

It added “there are substantial challenges that the digital health industry faces that must be considered within any insurance and liability analysis,” it added.

They include:

  • Regulatory and legal frameworks that cannot keep pace within innovation, adoption and use.
  • Consumer concerns about security and privacy.
  • Ethical questions that inevitably arise in the adoption and use of new technologies, especially regarding the role of commercialism and monetization.
  • Interoperability issues and fragmented systems – both technical (software, platforms etc.) and ‘system structure’ (e.g. disparate providers, payors and regulators of healthcare).
  • Competing motivations and misalignments – payor, provider and patient (what are the priorities and how can they be agreed upon).
  • Equity issues that can especially arise from swift digital implementations – e.g. digital literacy issues, digital access issues (‘digital divide’) and the impact on vulnerable groups (e.g. seniors – the ‘grey divide’).
  • Usability issues for patients and providers alike.

The white paper added: “The global digital health market size is estimated to be over $116 billion (as at 2019) and forecast to be nearly a $833 billion market by 2027.

“However, interest in digital health technologies is not solely driven by the obvious economic opportunities, there are several forces that are propelling the proliferation of digital health innovations. Most importantly, digital health tools have robust clinical utility that hold great promise to achieve better quality care, improve access, lower costs and ultimately improve health outcomes through better diagnoses and treatments.”

It warned: “Big data is the gas in the engine of most digital health innovations; thus, the sheer availability of data globally is another substantial growth driver.

“Consider the global data sphere is projected to grow from 59 zettabytes in 2020 to 175 zettabytes by 2025 – a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26%; and because of the digitization of medicine, health data are amassing at an even faster pace – CAGR of 36% through 2025.

“A final driver has been the surge in consumer demand for digital health tools to manage their care. The demand which appeared to plateau in 2018, may have been revitalized by the forces of COVID-19.”