Connected healthcare – Aetna International CIO Alan Payne

26 May 2017

Employee healthcare support is about to take huge strides forward, according to Alan Payne, chief information officer at Aetna International. We discuss connected healthcare and how Aetna International is determined to lead the market by taking a consumer-first approach.

Chief Executive Officer: You’ve recently started at Aetna International. What is your role and what were you doing prior to this appointment?

Alan Payne: As the chief information officer for Aetna International, I’m responsible for international IT operations. I report directly to Meg McCarthy, a member of the Aetna executive committee, and support Aetna International’s executive vice-president, Richard di Benedetto.                             

The digital and technology landscape has held particular interest for me in my 25 years operating within the insurance, healthcare, banking and capital markets sectors. As an executive-level digital and technology leader, I have delivered globally across multiple businesses and support functions. 

Before joining Aetna International, I was the chief digital and information officer at Nuffield Health. Prior to that, I served as the global digital director at Bupa, built up several successful businesses, was the CTO at JPMorgan Chase, and held leadership positions at Oracle and Merrill Lynch.

You mentioned that you joined Aetna International from Nuffield Health. How do the challenges of delivering technological change in the global health-insurance market compare with the UK healthcare sector?

The healthcare sector considers the people that go through its system as patients. The insurance industry refers to them as customers or members. My view is that anyone who uses a healthcare product, whether an insurance product or a visit to a hospital, is a consumer.

And the more we put the consumer at the heart of everything we do, the better their experience.

At Nuffield Health, I dealt with a single regulatory market. Aetna International works across multiple territories – a considerably different scenario that means issues such as data domicile and security are now more front of mind.

The UK and international healthcare markets are data-led. Without data and data-led insight, it’s impossible to be successful in healthcare. However, both markets have traditionally been slow to exploit new technology for the consumers’ benefit.

The more providers, consumers, decision-makers and stakeholders are connected with data, the more effective solutions for customers will be. That’s the driver for Aetna International. We will be pioneering ‘connectedness’ across our whole community.

How is Aetna International approaching the complex issue of technology and employee healthcare?

Our overall approach has four interconnected components:

1.   Data-led insight: before we make decisions on digitally connecting elements of the member healthcare experience, we need solid evidence that something is worthwhile and we should be working on it.

2.   Clinical excellence and behavioural science: whatever we do will be grounded in solid clinical evidence from academia and the medical community, delivered using personalised tools researched and validated to optimise value to the consumer – value delivered in context to what the consumer needs, when he or she needs it.

3.   The consumer experience: whatever we build digitally will be designed around the consumer. Companies like Apple have taught us that design matters. If consumers have a great digital experience, with minimal clicks and swipes to get to where they want to be, you are more likely to get frequent use.

4.   Technology: this won’t work without the first three components being right. Technology allows you to scale and apply other capabilities. This is especially true in the world of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.

What is connected healthcare and how does it benefit corporates with diverse groups of international employees?

For Aetna International, connected healthcare is about using digital technology to improve healthcare delivery, and the ability to link all our customers’ touch points together and provide accurate medical information about the patient to the medical professional while providing support at every stage.

Our digital agenda enables us to triage our membership from digital support, through to consultations over the telephone and through mediums such as Skype, and then on to physical care.

We think this will be incredibly helpful for the consumers that use our services. And it’s not just about convenience. Going through the digital and telephonic routes initially will enable us to move the consumer incredibly quickly to the physical support that precisely matches their needs, all through the same connected channel. We have access to hundreds and thousands of medical facilities globally so the consumer will be taken quickly to wherever they need to be.

And if a consumer needs additional hospital treatment – whether for an emergency or planned procedure – we can provide support during that time and throughout the recovery period using the same channels.

How do these innovations benefit employers and their employees?

Employers can be safe in the knowledge that their staff working overseas will receive a high level of healthcare support. But this doesn’t relate to just the traditional cover offered by international private medical insurance. It’s about supporting the consumer when they need help through digital, telephonic and physical channels. And helping employers to understand that, whatever healthcare support their people need, we will be there for them. It’s offering the end-to-end connectedness that we think is unique in the market.

We are talking about a level of personalisation that has not been seen before and that is part of the USP that Aetna International is building.

For the employee, it’s about convenience and supporting self-intervention. Demonstrating that we are not just there when something goes wrong but also helping consumers to create successful healthcare outcomes for themselves.

Smoking is a potential example. It wouldn’t be about providing a PDF or brochure describing how to stop smoking, but rather supporting members with behaviourally-driven cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] techniques. Members would be able to firstly access digital support and move to telephonic support, depending on their needs and preferences.

This introduces the concept of an emergency ‘smokers’ number, and being able to speak to a trained individual, when the urge to have a cigarette starts, who can help to discourage that behaviour. If you can avoid smoking when you have the urge for three minutes, there’s an 80% chance you won’t smoke at that time, so small increments can have a huge long-term effect.

Fitness tracking devices are another example. We know the aim of walking 10,000 steps a day is a great way to get people active, but we don’t know the medical benefits of doing so for a specific individual. If we can measure an individual’s blood pressure or heart rate through clinical methods, then we can assess the effect of walking 10,000 steps a day over a period of time for that person. That is meaningful information about the individual’s health.

This is the type of thing Aetna International is aiming to make the norm when supporting the consumer through connected healthcare.Convenience is another big benefit. If you need any healthcare support, it’s available through your smartphone no matter where you are. That’s beneficial. If we know you’re going to be flying, we can offer guidance on how to reduce embolisms. If we know you are travelling, we can ensure you have travel socks. We are talking about a level of personalisation that has not been seen before and that really is part of the USP that Aetna International is building.

Aetna International already provides an excellent baseline of care, but we are investing in connected health care for an important reason: the consumers’ health.

What roles does data play in connected care?

More data has been created in the past two years than in all previous years combined. Humans can’t comprehend this level of data, and this has driven innovations like cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.

The level of data creation has also created the need for greater security, with blockchain technology now becoming more mainstream. These are all things that Aetna International is looking at with the aim of protecting consumer information through leading-edge security. We believe that every country requires its own sovereignty when it comes to data. So the data applicable to a specific location needs to be securely housed in that location.

Our view is to be very sensitive to local needs. In fact, our whole organisational design is around local delivery rather than a central one-size-fits-all model. 

Aetna International is leading the way in connected healthcare delivery. We truly believe this to be the next stage in creating personalised healthcare support for consumers around the world. The technology enabling Aetna International to do this allows medical data to be efficiently transferred from one care stage to the next. Which means the consumer receives the support and information they need at every stage of their journey. We’re aiming to build a healthier world with the promise of ‘healthy, anytime, anywhere’.

Data-led insight means better healthcare delivery.