The need for global employers to offer their expatriate employees a healthcare solution that provides a comprehensive suite of easy-to-access benefits cannot be understated, argues Sneh Khemka, president of international population health solutions at Aetna International, which is at the forefront of providing leading global health insurance plans to expatriates.
Several studies have demonstrated the link between productivity and health in the workforce – and everyone knows the implications employee sickness has on the ability to get things done. The message is simple: keep the employee population fit and healthy, and an organisation’s productivity is likely to benefit. The ability to create this optimal scenario, however, is somewhat less easy to achieve.
In the previous edition of Chief Executive Officer, Aetna International discussed its ambitious plans to seamlessly connect the dots in the healthcare chain for international employees. It is worth recapping on the key points that were made in that article, as this will put into context one of the most exciting developments in the international private medical insurance space.
Connected care and providing a seamless approach for healthcare
Staff members who need medical treatment may face a very different scenario when working overseas than they do in their home country. It is easy to forget that most people will know how to access the care that they need from their domestic healthcare systems, but could be faced with an unfamiliar environment abroad. Worse still, working in a remote or underdeveloped location could make the process of seeking treatment even more complex.
A simplified care process example
By connecting the different elements of healthcare the company’s members need, Aetna International aims to solve these issues. The care process can be incredibly complex. For the purposes of illustrating how it can connect the care process for the benefit of its members, the company helps to think about the care process in five typical stages (see above).
Although international private medical insurers generally operate comprehensive and high-quality networks of medical providers around the globe, there can still be challenges for members. Questions arise as to avoiding misleading information on the internet, when researching medical symptoms; how to quickly access medical advice – no matter where members are in the world; how to be sure the specialist they are referred to has the right experience to treat their condition; and whether that specialist has full access to their medical records, especially as they could be anywhere in the world.
For Aetna International, connected healthcare is about using digital technology to solve these issues and improve healthcare delivery. The technology creates the ability to link a member’s healthcare interactions together to provide accurate medical information about the patient for each medical professional at every stage of the care process.
Technology will allow Aetna International to provide its membership with a library of reliable online medical information, should they wish to research their symptoms. Consultations can be held virtually through a computer or smart device, or face-to-face, whichever is preferred. And when the medical practitioner refers the patient to a different stage of the care process, the next medical professional will have full access to the patient’s medical records.
The connected-care process is also about making sure that the customer has access to a primary care physician – someone who can help the customer understand either what is wrong, to get immediate care, to be referred to if required and to help coordinate ongoing care. With poorly structured primary care systems in most developing countries, digital technology helps to leapfrog the barriers of bricks and mortar, and give customers a doctor in their pocket.This is an incredibly exciting development. Convenience for Aetna International’s members is a major benefit and going through the digital routes initially will enable it to move the patient incredibly quickly, allowing them to receive physical support from a consultant or to go to a medical facility, which has the knowledge and equipment to deliver the best possible outcome for them.
Virtual health – or vHealth as Aetna International calls it – is a key stage of this process – and it is being offered now at the company.
Except for a few locations, virtual consultations can be delivered through computer screens, laptops or smart phones. Doctors can sometimes prescribe medicines, refer on to specialists and advise patients on their medical concerns. Prevention and early intervention can also reduce the need for acute care, again benefitting the patient and reducing costs. And notes on previous consultations will be available to the vHealth doctor, enabling informed and consistent medical advice.
Aetna International is launching vHealth across all of its key global regions, and began with India last year. This is an exciting development because vHealth has the potential to change the way healthcare is accessed and delivered around the world. It is already making a difference with more than 170,000 members across 132 countries who use the service.
It is worth noting that technology is not vHealth’s most important feature: digital technology simply provides the means of delivery and allows appropriate access and communication.
An important aspect of virtual healthcare is that it uses the digital technology that most patients are already familiar with. Whether it is Skype, smartphone apps, email, the internet or just the telephone, access is easy, and it is convenient and simple to use. There is nothing daunting about virtual healthcare.
Employee health is central to the success of any organisation. The international private medical insurance market has developed to provide comprehensive health protection benefits to this employee group. However, easy access to healthcare remains a challenge for many. New developments like vHealth are improving access to healthcare, thereby enhancing the experience for international employees.
The vision for vHealth at Aetna International
Jane works for an international organisation and is based in a remote Mozambique location. She has a condition that has been worrying her for some time, but the effort of visiting a doctor has deterred her from seeking medical advice. Jane is made aware of her insurer’s new vHealth service and books a video consultation with an Aetna International virtual doctor through her mobile phone.
Jane talks to a doctor that has been specifically trained in the delivery of vHealth. The physician spends time with Jane, and is able to make a careful assessment of her condition, so they can recommend the best course of action. The doctor is able to arrange further care and an appointment is made for a specialist doctor to visit Jane at home for further tests.
The test results are made available online for Jane and her doctor to discuss, which enables a recommendation for the next stage of care to be made. In this instance, the doctor refers Jane to a specialist clinic in Mozambique. When Jane arrives at the clinic, she finds the specialist has already spoken to the vHealth doctor and has access to medical notes. Because of the vHealth system, the virtual doctor was able to ensure that Jane was referred to a consultant with appropriate experience to treat her.
Following treatment, she has to go through a short period of rehabilitation. Her vHealth doctor is able to clarify any medical questions Jane has and can offer additional advice if needed. Any medication that Jane needs can be ordered by the doctor and delivered directly to her home in Mozambique. From symptom to rehabilitation, Jane has received fully coordinated care delivered by a number of different medical parties.