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InsurTalks Podcast with KB Srinivas: The Road to Recovery for Indian Insurance Beyond Covid-19

8 minutes, 40 seconds read

It was hard to predict the extent of damage that the COVID-19 pandemic might cause to the whole world. As several economies across continents came spiraling down, various industries have been badly hit. Sectors such as healthcare, travel, hospitality, etc. have incurred huge losses. This has put a lot of pressure on the Insurance sector in terms of claims processing, operations, customer support, etc. To go one step deeper and get a sense of how Insurance and InsureTech industries are coping with this crisis, we interviewed Mr. KB Vijaya Srinivas — the insurance industry veteran and former Chairman cum Managing Director of United India Insurance Company Ltd.

Mr. KB Vijaya Srinivas is a renowned insurance industry expert with vast experience spanning around four decades. Mr. Srinivas retired after holding Joint Additional charge of United India Insurance Company Ltd. as Chairman cum Managing Director. He joined United India Insurance in 1981 as a direct recruit officer and has served in various metropolitan cities, in various capacities encompassing almost all the different aspects of the organization. 

Mr. Srinivas served National Insurance Company as a General Manager. He later became the Chief Marketing Officer and held charge of many other portfolios like foreign operations, crop insurance, rural insurance, publicity, CSR, estate, administration, to name some. 

He has been a recipient of awards on many occasions from the Insurance Institute of India for essays on various topics. Now, he is a freelance writer, trainer, consultant, and also director of MDIndia Networx and MDIndia TPA. 

Excerpt from the interview- 

Navigating the New Normal in Insurance

How is the Indian Insurance Industry addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic? How are Insurers navigating the ‘new normal’?

Mr. Srinivas: Insurance follows the economy. If the economy goes up, insurance also does well and vice-versa. Due to the lockdowns, businesses across industries are not doing well. This has led to a decline in the demand for insurance. Due to a lack of adequate income, people are delaying buying insurance or being selective in their insurance requirements. 

However, on the brighter side, due to the pandemic, more people are looking towards buying health insurance. When one enters in one type of insurance, then there’s a tendency to explore other lines of insurance products as well.

There’s a possibility of introducing a new line of insurance such as Pandemic insurance. Pandemic insurance is available internationally but not in India. Following the recent example of Wimbledon, where they bought pandemic insurance in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, they now got a compensation close to 140 million euros due to this year’s cancellation of the event.

[Related: The Biggest Insurance Payouts in History]

In India, IRDAI and the General Insurance Council took some proactive steps. The General Insurance Council came out with some guidelines such as waving of the clause in Fire Insurance during the lockdown which states that if a factory is closed without notice for more than 30 days, the insurance cover will cease to exist. Spot Survey in accident policy has become lenient — such as survey through photos instead of in-person surveys at the accident spot is allowed. IRDAI has also relaxed the payment of premiums and claims processing of COVID cases within 2 hours. 

Processing of COVID-19 based claims

With the IRDAI placing special instructions for COVID-19 based claims, such as authorization of cashless requests within two hours, and processing of claims within shorter time frames — Insurers are trying to settle claims as quickly and without hassle as possible — Has this put undue burden on ‘claims processing systems’?

Mr. Srinivas: Health insurance incidentally constitutes a significant number of claims and amount of premiums in the insurance industry. Major portion of the claims process has already been digitized. This will make things faster especially for COVID patients. I believe that claims processing in the current times has not put a huge strain on health insurance. Certainly, due to lockdowns and remote working, things will be slightly delayed but once the lockdowns are lifted, they’ll be able to serve their customers better.

COVID-19: An impetus to going Digital?

Is the ongoing pandemic, going to be the impetus for insurance to move completely online (digital)?

Mr. Srinivas:  Definitely, this pandemic will give a special thrust to insurance towards going online. Moreover, customers will prefer online transactions rather than standing in line and submitting physical documents. IT and Telecommunication companies should come up with technologies that can make these digital processes seamless.

[Related: The role of AI in enhancing claims experience for Insurance customers]

Protecting the Demand side during the Lockdown

Given that physical selling (via agents) has been severely affected by lockdown restrictions and social distancing norms, we are starting to hear that the Insurance advisory is now turning to digital to stay in touch with their customers — What steps do Insurers need to take to build and protect the demand side?

Mr. Srinivas: For many years now, insurance has been a product that is sold and not voluntarily bought. There has certainly been a thrust to digital platforms for sales and marketing however, agents still contribute to a major chunk of the premiums. All companies have online agent portals through which they operate. 

A survey shows that around 75% of people still trust agents for buying a policy. They’ll be a dominating factor for many years to come. Collecting premiums and making payments have already been happening online, and it will accelerate in the future. Agents will also rely on online platforms for sales and marketing. Due to social distancing, in-person sales will drop down but agents will certainly protect their customer’s interests through other channels.

How can Insurers equip their agents to generate sales in this pandemic?

Mr. Srinivas: There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done in this area. Insurance agents are very diverse. Some are from rural areas with no knowledge about insurance and some are on the other end of the spectrum such as highly qualified Chartered Accountants. 

Today, a good number of agents still survive on the traditional line of insurances such as Motor or Health. First, insurance companies should educate their agents on the types of insurance available. Second, they should train their agents on how to sell the insurance products. Motor insurance is easy to sell as it is a standardized product but event cancellation insurance is hard to sell.

Insurance for Rural India

“Taking Insurance to Bharat” was a main theme entering into 2020. Going forward, what can Insurers do to reach Rural India?

Mr. Srinivas: In 1972, insurance was nationalized. Before which it was in the private sector and very urban-centered. The objective behind nationalizing the insurance sector was to take insurance to the deepest parts of India. There were so many districts where not a single person had insurance. So we had to open offices in these rural areas. It was a tough job but we opened offices in those districts. 

The second initiative was starting a single-person office to take insurance further into the deep pockets of rural India. In 2013-14, the government brought in new guidelines where offices were opened depending on the population in the area. Many less populated areas did not have offices. Offices were opened in those areas. 

Digitization has taken insurance one step further. New marketing channels have opened. In remote locations, along with agents, Point-of-Sales persons sell insurance. From 10th pass person to small shop owners, anyone can become a Point-of-Sales person. 

Schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojna which is an accident policy has more than 15 cr people under it. Ayushman Bharat covers around 10 cr. families (around 50 cr.) people across the country. Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojna (a life insurance policy) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (crop insurance) have connected India to Bharat in a very big way. Perhaps it has not been projected in a constructive way however they have made significant progress. 

On-set of COVID-19, many states have said Ayushman Bharat which was previously limited to BPL strata (Below Poverty Line) is now providing coverage for the entire state. Things are happening silently but effectively.

Product Innovation

Before the ongoing crisis, the IRDAI had recently set up sandboxes for experimenting with new innovative motor and health products. What kind of new insurance products are being/need to be built during the Pandemic crisis?

Mr. Srinivas: Pandemic insurance is available internationally but not many have taken it. In India, this policy can be easily built and will have wider acceptance. For example, the Business Interruption policy states that claims can be filed for loss due to fire or breakdown of machinery ultimately leading to loss of revenue or profit. This policy was earlier called the Loss of Profit. Pandemics are not covered under this policy. 

There has been a lot of debate over this topic internationally as well whether claims should be processed or not. Time has come to develop a policy that includes business interruption due to pandemics causing loss of revenue. Limited travel due to the pandemic crisis has affected the various industries such as airline, shipping, hospitality, etc. There is no insurance cover for the losses incurred by these businesses. Spoilage of goods due to deterioration during the lockdowns, non-use of vehicle and machinery also cause a huge loss. It’s time to have policies or clauses in place for losses due to these reasons. 

Role of AI in Operational Continuity

Will AI have a role to play for Insurers trying to maintain operational continuity during this COVID-19 Pandemic? 

Mr. Srinivas: Most definitely. In 2015, during Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna there was a challenge of handling huge volumes of data for which we had to make use of technology like satellite imagery and drones to assess the loss for claims processing. AI will have a larger role to play in insurance for its success. 

[Related: Embrace the New Normal | Business Continuity Solutions]

Closing Note

This exciting interaction gave a deep insight into the history of insurance in India and provided some useful insights on paving the way forward in the New Normal. Mr. KB Vijaya Srinivas also highlighted the importance of InsurTechs in the New normal and spoke about new insurance lines and policy coverages being introduced as a result of this pandemic.

AI is going to be essential for Insurers to gain that competitive edge in the post-pandemic world. Check out Hitee — an Insurance specific chatbot for driving customer engagement. For your specific requirements, please feel free to write to us at hello@mantralabsglobal.com. 

Podcasts in this series:


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Virtual health: Delivering care through technology

8 minutes, 52 seconds read

Virtual Care, Telehealth, Telemedicine, etc. are terms used very synonymously. Indeed they are interrelated, however, Virtual Care is a broader term in which healthcare providers use digital tools to communicate and deliver care to their patients. Telehealth and Telemedicine are a part of Virtual Care where doctors deliver care to their patients, remotely via phone, video, or instant messaging. Virtual health includes care delivery beyond video consultation where hospitals provide services using technology such as wearables for remote monitoring, instruments for post-op care and second opinions, e-pharma services, and medical information, etc. 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic gave an impetus to Virtual Care, but even in the Pre-COVID time, the Healthcare sector was slowly gearing up for this next wave in care delivery. What COVID-19 did was, help patients get acclimatized to the digital health tools and services. 

What does Virtual Health help with?

The pandemic has brought the burning issues of the healthcare sector to center stage. Patient experience and access to healthcare services are key differentiators for people while choosing a healthcare provider. Let’s take a look at some of these issues addressed by technology in the healthcare sector-

The increasing number of patients

Apart from the pandemic, there’s already been a rise in the number of patients due to drastic changes in lifestyle and food habits, an increase in pollution levels, increase in new types of viruses, etc. This has caused undue stress on healthcare institutions and workers and has led to the deterioration of the quality of patient care. Virtual Health technology such as mHealth apps, EHR (Electronic Health Record), video conferencing, etc. has helped reduce the pressure on hospitals.

Difficulty in traveling for old patients

The pace of life is increasing at a rapid rate. It is getting insanely difficult for the elder population to navigate through the traffic and commute long distances for a check-up. Many times, they have to depend on their family members to take them to hospitals. Moreover, they are at risk of exposure to viruses in hospitals and clinics. Now that they have had the experience of virtual consultations, they prefer care delivery at home rather than going to hospitals.

Chronic Diseases treatment

The number of people above the age of 45 face health issues. Some patients are suffering from chronic diseases regardless of age. Regular monitoring of their vitals is very important. Moreover people now prefer Virtual healthcare services which are easily accessible and save a lot of time, effort, and money. Now that people have found these services effective, they will opt for online consults rather than frequent in-person visits. 

Post-op Care

The duration of post-operative care is quite long and tedious. If given a choice, people will lean towards wearables which will help keep doctors posted on the status of the treatment. Many times, the cost of post-op care is more than the actual treatment and sometimes is not covered under insurance. Virtual care-delivery services will help reduce the financial burden of people going through these treatments.

Follow-ups/Second opinion  

Some health conditions need multiple follow-ups and second opinions to figure out the right approach to treat the issue. It is much easier for patients to do follow-up consults virtually rather than going through the tedious process of appointment booking, commuting, and waiting for their turn. It helps reduce the queue outside the doctor’s office as well. Some health issues need a second opinion, sometimes both by patients and doctors. Virtual Healthcare technologies make it possible for them to take second opinions from doctors all over the world. With electronic records and image sharing, doctors can diagnose the problem better.

What does Virtual Health include?

Virtual Health can be broadly divided into below applications-

mHealth Applications

mHealth applications have widespread use. From symptom checkers to appointment booking, from fitness trackers to uploading medical records, from video conferencing features to chatbot integrations, mHealth apps are on a rise mainly because of easy accessibility for the tech-savvy customers. According to a study by NCBI, among the 22 selected mHealth apps operating in India, Practo, mfine, DocsApp, 1mg, Netmeds, Lybrate, MediBuddy, and Medlife were found to be the eight most popular ones with over a million downloads and on average four-plus user rating out of five. All the above apps are mainly being used for online consults. This just goes about showing that people prefer having homecare services instead of stepping out. 

E-Triage Tools

The rising number of patients with different stages of COVID symptoms was a task to deal with. E-triage software here enables hospitals to triage patients into different sections when there’s an overload of patients at a particular time. Now, in the case of home care, e-triage tools help patients to access the gravity of their health condition and notify the healthcare provider accordingly. Such tools help reduce A&E waiting time and improve NHS performance. Many companies are building healthcare software integrating the E-triage module within EHR, telemedicine, clinical decision making, billing, etc. In India, Persistent Systems’ cutting edge platform has a Nurse Triage system that enables nurses to see the queue of patients and triage via phone calls. Once the calls are done, a triage report is generated and sent to care providers. Many leading doctors feel that AI in image triage will see a boost in near future.

Remote Patient Monitoring 

There are multiple benefits such as reduced post-op expenditure, time wastage, less exposure to other diseases, etc. The global remote patient monitoring devices market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 7.1% during the forecast period (2019–2027) according to Coherent Market Insights. Some of the top players in this space are Biotronik, Boston Scientific Corporation, CAS Medical Systems, CONTEC MEDICAL, Dragerwerk, GE Healthcare, Guangdong Biolight Meditech, Medtronic, Mindray Medical, Nihon Kohden, Philips Healthcare, Spacelabs Healthcare, Abbott. Companies such as GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare have done a great job with building remote patient monitoring systems within the hospital premises as well as homecare for COVID patients. The main goal was to reduce the exposure of healthcare workers to at-risk patients. 

Synchronous and Asynchronous Telehealth

Synchronous telehealth, in other words, Telemedicine is where there is a live conversation between the patient and the doctor. Asynchronous telehealth involves the exchange of recorded data e.g. images, video, medical reports, pathology reports between patients and doctors, at times between doctors as well. Similar to mHealth space, companies like Practo, 1mg, Lybrate, Medlife, and Portea Medical in India are some of the top players in telehealth and telemedicine. Lybrate’s USP lies in CMS (Clinical Management System) which helps doctors with tedious tasks of managing patients and providing better care. Meanwhile, Portea Medical’s home consults and pharma delivery have more relevance with the audience as it combines technology with a touch of personalization. 

Digital Therapeutics

Digital Therapeutics delivers evidence-based therapies with the help of software which can be used both as a preventive measure as well as treatment application. The effectiveness of the medication and lifestyle changes on patients are monitored by leveraging technology. In India, major non-communicable diseases that account for 62% of the total mortality rate are CVD, diabetes, respiratory conditions, and cancer. Prominent global players in this space include Noom (US), Livongo Health (US), Omada Health (US), WellDoc (US), Pear Therapeutics (US), Proteus Digital Health (US), Propeller Health (US), Akili Interactive Labs (US), Better Therapeutics (US), etc. Omada Health is the pioneer in the DTx (Digital Therapeutics) that focused primarily on diabetes and pre-diabetes but now is branching out in the mental health space as well. In India, Altran (a part of Capgemini) is into building personalized DTx applications for clients. Whereas a start-up called Wellthy Therapeutics has ready solutions catering to multiple diseases.

Future of Virtual Health

Undoubtedly, there has been a massive increase in the adoption of Virtual Health technologies as people have gotten accustomed to the ease of certain services at home. In the coming future, mHealth apps, remote patient monitoring, and Digital therapeutics see a surge in demand from the customers. According to a study by Markets and Markets, “The global digital therapeutics market is projected to reach USD 6.9 billion by 2025 from USD 2.1 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 26.7% during the forecast period (2020–2025).” A study by Fortune Business Insights, “The global mHealth market size is projected to reach USD 293.29 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 29.1% during the forecast period.” A Research and Markets report says, “The remote patient monitoring market is expected to reach US$31.326 billion by the end of 2023.” Apart from the above, development in digital infrastructure such as virtual health stations where doctors can provide consultations globally, mobile ICUs, MRIs, X-rays, ultrasound equipment, the establishment of rural virtual care units reaching the remote areas of the country are some of the trends which will gain momentum. The focus would always lie upon the personalization of the virtual care experience for patients driven by data exchange and interoperability. 

Indeed, there are certain challenges to the implementation of these technologies, lack of infrastructure, and digital literacy amongst elders and lower strata of society. Many healthcare institutions still have inhibitions while investing in digital technologies fearing rejection from the customers. It will be crucial for care providers to choose the right partner for implementing these technologies and create awareness amongst people to adopt them.  

In a Nutshell

The success of virtual care relies on how well the digital experience is designed for the patient. “By 2025, as many as 95 percent of all customer interactions will be through channels supported by artificial intelligence (AI) technology” – Microsoft. The use of algorithms and AI for personalizing these experiences will be the key. 

Find out more about unchartered territories in ‘Blue Ocean’ of Digital Health. Join our webinar hosted by Parag Sharma (CEO, Mantra Labs) as he shares his insights on untapped opportunities using digital self-care tools within behavioral healthcare & emotional wellness.

Save your spot! 

Further Readings:

  1. Reimagining Medical Diagnosis with Chatbots
  2. HealthTech 101: How are Healthcare Technologies Reinventing Patient Care
  3. What will be the state of the healthcare industry post pandemic?
  4. Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care

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