The value of digital mental health tools in insurance

The value of digital mental health tools in insurance Mark Jones joined the IFoA’s Mental Health Working Party recent webinar on the value of digital mental health tools in insurance. Mark, a member of the working party, explores some of the session’s highlight and offers his own insight on the discussion.

Individual’s mental health is in the news more than ever. The app stores are awash with a plethora of offerings aimed at helping individuals manage their mental health. Is there a place for these digital mental health tools in insurance offerings? This was the question explored in a webinar organised recently by the IFoA’s Mental Health Working Party.

Our joint chair Lisa Balboa gave an overview of the aims of the working party. Lisa then invited 3 providers to explain where their offering worked in the insurance value chain. And with the session aimed at actuaries, she asked what evidence they had of its efficacy.

The providers were Martin Jervis representing Thrive, Simon Miller of Headspace along with Frank Cheung from Accorded, and Dialogue’s Wendy Rose. Headspace have worked with Accorded to provide the evidence of tool efficacy.

Thrive uses data to get to root causes

Martin explained how Thrive combines different data sources to identify mild to moderate issues and get to root causes. He referred to a case study with Staffordshire Police where:

  • 33% downloaded the Thrive app
  • 92% of unwell users sought help
  • 86% fully recovered through therapy
  • £600,000 was saved through reduced sickness absence and staff turnover

Headspace meets most needs without therapy

Simon covered how Headspace uses mindfulness and guided meditation through to human-led coaching delivered via chat and therapy. 70% to 80% of needs are met without the need for therapy. He described a case of one large employer where Accorded found that using Headspace led to savings of 7% for a coaching-only cohort and 15% for team-based care.

Dialogue focuses on prevention

Wendy introduced Dialogue as focusing on prevention and encouraging good behaviours. She highlighted the interaction between physical activity, mental health tools, healthy habit formation, and insight. This approach attracts healthier customers, reduces medical claim cost, and extends customer lifespans. She quoted 62% of users increased activity levels after joining the app based on their wearable data.

It was clear to me that there are common themes among the products, even though each is quite different in its approach and aim.

Some of these themes include:

  • mental health is a continuum that individuals move along in either or both directions
  • mental health influences and is influenced by all other aspects of health including physical and lifestyle choices
  • data is the driver for identifying trends and root causes to generate next actions
  • the biggest challenge is gaining and maintaining an individual’s engagement
  • we’re at the beginning of a journey: how do we better collaborate to accelerate learning?

A medical practitioner’s view

Dr Tarun Gupta, Chief Medical Officer of L&G Retail, then shared his thoughts as a medical practitioner. He called out that there are opportunities for insurers to use digital tools. He cited their accessibility and ability to provide quality intervention. Individuals are able to personalise the tools, which aids engagement and efficacy.

He also referenced the benefits of normalising frequent monitoring of mental health as many people do for their physical health, and so build resilience. One of his comments really struck me: we brush our teeth to keep the dentist away – what’s the equivalent for mental health?

Digital tools are not without challenges. Tarun listed the sensitivity of the data, GDPR registration, clinical validation, and the digital divide as examples.

What the tools can do is increase access and scalability. In short, digital tools can strengthen and broaden support but not replace human interaction.

Audience Q&A

Questions from the audience included the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the balance between digital and human support. Guests asked about the use of digital tools to improve customer underwriting outcomes and the challenges of analysing the data, particularly access to sensitive medical data.

For example, one question highlighted that there is an 18-week wait for NHS CBT. Not all therapy is CBT, and CBT is not the answer to everyone’s problem. We need to understand what the presenting problem is and the appropriate tool to address it.

With a range of digital mental health tools available, it is important to match the relevant tool to the individual’s needs. Insurers looking to offer digital mental health services to customers should also carefully consider what is the most effective balance between digital and human support. A well-thought-through approach to digital mental health in insurance could translate into enhancements in patient care for clinical mental health needs. And it could support customers via preventative and early intervention approaches.

The webinar provoked an engaging discussion that certainly gave support to there being value in using digital mental health tools in insurance.

Watch the session

The full recording of the webinar is available on the IFoA website for members. Watch the recording

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