Tag Archives: virtual reality

Pain Management, Wellbeing in Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has put an enormous strain on the healthcare system, delaying non-emergency medical care, potentially creating a higher risk for pain patients. However, the behavioral health community is adjusting with transitions to telemedicine and other alternatives that allow their patients to receive the care they need. With clinicians feeling additional stress during this time, telehealth options are readily available for the healthcare community, too. We cannot expect those working in healthcare to properly care for others unless we are prioritizing their mental health needs.

Two of the leading researchers and practitioners in pain medicine joined us for our special edition Out Front Ideas COVID-19 Briefing Webinar Series to discuss the challenges of treating pain patients during the pandemic and how the healthcare landscape is adapting:

  • Beth Darnall, PhD – pain psychologist and associate professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Management at Stanford Health Care
  • Steven P. Stanos, DO – medical director of pain medicine and medical director of occupational medicine services at Seattle’s Swedish Health

Workplace Wellbeing

Due to the additional stress that the pandemic has created for healthcare workers, behavioral health psychology and counseling have become available in many primary care facilities. The behavioral health industry has a concierge of services that allow doctors to work with a therapist confidentially in a time of need. This “care for caregivers” model also includes Zoom-based videos and lectures covering helpful techniques like tai chi demonstrations, breathing exercises, guided meditations and chair yoga. These videos are then saved in an archive, making them readily available for later use when caregivers need them. While created to get through the stress of the pandemic, these videos will help to alleviate tension that healthcare workers face regularly.

Behavioral health, as well as many other clinical disciplines, had to rapidly adjust to telehealth visits, creating safer access for patients. Not only does this alleviate stress for the clinicians, it creates a safer workspace for clinicians and staff alike. In addition to the creation of video resources for the healthcare community, crisis management and wellness resources are available. Organizations like the American Psychological Association have created online resources that collate information for clinicians and administrative leaders, providing on-demand access when they need it most.

Patient Wellbeing

COVID-19 has created disruptions in all areas of our lives, but it has been especially challenging for those managing chronic pain. These patients are seeking stabilization in their lives, but continued disruptions have complicated their paths to wellness. These disruptions can compound mental and physical ailments for a pain patient, making it especially difficult for those with co-morbidities. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of opioid patients given the difficulty it has created for those who need access to medications. Some patients have requested options to taper off opioids or reduce their usage since the current environment may leave them feeling even less in control. 

Because patients are at the mercy of the elements currently, it is increasingly critical to use patient-centered communication. Many pain patients who were just beginning to develop regular schedules are now dealing with the stress from a lack of routine. Refreshing patients on skills learned through previous treatments may help create structure and give clinicians key insights into their at-home routines. Understanding a patient’s stress level can make medication refills easier because conditions like anxiety may be exacerbated currently, putting an opioid patient more at risk than usual. This continued communication will be key when there is a return to normalcy, to maintain consistency in the care of an injured worker.

Treating Pain During COVID-19

Accessibility is essential in treating pain patients throughout the pandemic. Nearly all visits have become telehealth visits, including psychological follow-ups and physical therapy. Behavioral medicine now offers options like individual or group sessions and on-demand treatments that can be used without a therapist. Immersive, experimental treatments, like virtual reality (VR), have created more engaging therapy for patients, putting control in their hands so they can get help when they need it. This portfolio of options, including internet-based treatments, creates readily accessible care for pain patients.

Patients who were involved in rehabilitative programs can now experience treatment virtually. The same content they would receive in-office, through physical therapy, pain education and relaxation training, can be delivered through courses a few days a week. A couple of options for these treatments include Zoom group visits or private YouTube videos, which comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 

All of these virtual programs work to support the hospitals when they need it most. For those experiencing significant pain and those with co-morbidities, emergency procedure clinics are now open to avoid ER visits and waiting on an approval process through a hospital. These clinics help to reserve hospital capacity for patients who need it most during the pandemic. 

Current Research

The need for alternative treatments during the pandemic has created a wave of new research and guidelines for therapy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) introduced the “Heal Initiative” to reduce opioid usage and awards grants for tools creating alternative pain management. One of those viable options includes VR, which has shown to be equivalent and sometimes even more effective than in-person pain therapy. These concepts retrain a patient’s brain and can optimize experiences based on biofeedback. This type of experimental treatment is especially helpful in areas where there are not enough trained clinicians to deal with those experiencing acute and chronic pain. As this technology gets increasingly cheaper, it will create better long-term tools for patients in need.

New guidelines created by the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM) and the American Society of Regional Anesthesia (ASRA), in conjunction with Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense, outline best practices for pain management during the pandemic. This document also addresses public health issues and the welfare of providers. It covers the potential issues surrounding telemedicine, explains how to treat opioid management, outlines mental health considerations for patients and healthcare providers and defines emergency procedures, like those associated with cancer patients. The document discusses emergency procedures for patients with poorly controlled pain that need opioids and how to help those experiencing withdrawals from use. The document also advises the use of acetaminophen to treat pain because the topic is still controversial in its interactions with the treatment of COVID-19. 

See also: Impact of COVID-19 on Workers’ Comp

While this period is transcending longstanding barriers now that on-demand care has been proven necessary, it is also important to continue assessing pain from a multidimensional perspective. This includes evaluating the risk for each patient, so in-person psychological evaluations are being used to treat the more symptomatic patients. Using resources like patient records and history to discern patients’ pain can provide insight into which patients may be more at risk. Though it may seem that telehealth visits could increase the risk of opioid abuse, there is no evidence on the extent of that risk when it is still the same patient reporting the same pain value, in-office or not. It is critical to take a patient’s reporting at face value and remember that pain will always be subjective.

To listen to the full Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark webinar on this topic, click here. Stay tuned for more from the Out Front Ideas COVID-19 Briefing Webinar Series, every Tuesday in April. View the full list of coming topics here.

What Digital Can Do for Disability Claims

Healthcare is being transformed by advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, sensors and other innovative technologies. Practically everybody has a smartphone, making it easier than ever to gather data and consent to third-party access. Unique data insights mean providers can offer people products and services tailored to them individually.

For insurers, digital technology offers new ways to manage risk that relies less on face-to-face and traditional clinical assessment; this is why there is so much interest in understanding how innovation might work. Selected comments from four key players in the digital health ecosystem make clear the appeal of putting two and two together.

Thomas Lethenborg at Monsenso, a mobile platform for mental health, said, “Digital technology helps an individual move from reactive behavior to being more proactive – and this changes the paradigm in particular with engagement.”

It’s a view shared by David Forster of Thrive, a digital interventions app for mental health: “Data drives our understanding of what works best for the individual.” According to Forster, the success of digital technology in clinical settings points to real opportunities in insurance: “It makes it possible to provide policyholders help with illness prevention, early detection and assistance on a personal level.”

Ian Prangley, of exercise rehabilitation service TrackActive, continued the theme when he said, “For insurers, digital solutions can drive connectedness, engagement and customer satisfaction while enabling people to self-manage their health. Harnessing data insights and implementing artificial intelligence (AI) is key to achieving this.”

See also: Why to Digitize Disability Claims  

A comment by Danny Dressler of AIMO, an ecosystem integrating intelligent motion analysis into musculoskeletal care, added further confirmation: “As more and better data is gathered and processed safely, AI offers the most promise to take care of people’s health, and fix issues in both healthcare and the life and health insurance sectors.”

By using digital means, insurers can create scalable, automated, speedy ways of supporting people when they need help the most. Proponents argue it offers better health outcomes for policyholders that will reduce the costs associated with long disability claims – a win-win for both insurers and consumers.

Dressler also said that “technology like ours lets insurers offer customers new solutions such as dynamic pricing and automated claims and even help to prevent claims from happening.” Lethenborg says it represents “an opportunity to ensure the data collected gives holistic insights and analytics that we can use to intervene more rapidly, when help is needed.”

But it’s crucial the highest levels of privacy and data protection are guaranteed and operators are in full compliance with regulations. An imperfect balance of privacy with innovation is a deal-breaker for consumers.

Forster is clear how delicate this balance is: “We recognize our responsibility to safeguard users’ data, but at the same time information technology empowers people to make choices and participate actively in managing their own health – it puts them in the driving seat for the first time.”

For digital solutions to be convincing, research and scientific evidence are needed, but with newly made services, long-term experience is scarce, and a leap of faith is required.

Dressler spoke for all in saying, “We maintain strong links to scientific institutions because the general technologies underpinning our solutions emerges from scientific thesis…[This means] we only implement new features or functions after a rigorous validation process, especially because we are asking people to trust us with their health and well-being.”

Dealing with high volumes of data is not without risk, particularly when it’s shared with third parties.

See also: Digital Innovation in Life Insurance  

Prangley has pointed to recent concerns over how sensitive data is being used to highlight the challenges faced, “The key is to anonymize and protect data, and have customers consent to sharing it on the understanding it will be used solely to improve their health.” This insight is driven home by Lethenborg, who said, “Transparency about how the data will be used is essential to building trust.”

Digitization has already brought new products and services that have had positive medical and scientific impact. As Prangley said, “Technology has connected people and changed how we relate to each other. There [are] arguments for and against this of course, but in the context of health and wellbeing we believe it’s a great thing.”

With mental health and musculoskeletal problems as the leading causes of disability claims in every market, these companies can bring digital solutions and opportunities – and health insurers can also feel great about them.

Whole New World for Customer Contact

Common things we hear these days: “If you really want to reach me, text me.” “Send that file to me via Slack.” “I live on Facebook, so send me a message on Facebook Messenger.”

We also observe that many people never answer voicemail, virtually ignore emails and throw away mail without even looking at it.

These are samplings of the communication patterns that are evolving in our society today. Meanwhile, how do we in the insurance industry communicate with our policyholders, agents, claimants and others? Email, phone calls and documents in the mail predominate. Web portals are also common. Some of the newer options for interaction are not on the radar of most insurers. Now, there are certainly individuals who still want to receive information in the traditional ways, and there will continue to be a need for these options, but the tide is turning.

See also: The Missing Piece for Customer Experience  

SMA has been investigating some new communication options and their implications for insurers. Our new research report, Advanced Customer Communications in the Digital Age: New Options for Insurers, explores how communications have evolved, how the insurance industry is using these options (or not), example use cases and what it all means in the context of an omni-channel environment.

Some of the new(er) forms of communication that have been gaining adoption and setting new expectations for customers include:

  • SMS texting and online chat: Although it is difficult to classify these as “new,” the insurance industry still has very little use of the technologies outside of the enterprise.
  • Messaging and collaboration platforms: These have been proliferating over the past decade or so, with tools like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Zoom and many others gaining large followings.
  • Voice assistants and chatbots: As voice and AI technologies have leapt forward, the opportunities to leverage AI-driven chatbots and voice assistants has increased dramatically. Much experimentation is underway in insurance.
  • Smart documents: Documents in many forms will continue to play a major role in communicating information to prospects, producers and policyholders. Rethinking those documents from a customer perspective and making them interactive and parametric provide great opportunities for the industry.
  • Augmented/virtual reality: Although a bit further out in terms of adoption and implications for insurance, there are already pilots and projects underway in the industry.

See also: How Customers Buy… and Why They Don’t  

The way the world communicates is rapidly changing, and everyone has their favorite options. Insurers would be wise to consider these in their customer journey and omni-channel strategies and plans.

4 Ways Connectivity Is Revolutionary

The Internet of Things (IoT) is predicted to support more than 20 billion devices by 2020, according to Gartner. This is a market that covers 60% of consumers worldwide, creating huge opportunities for industries to connect and engage with their customers.

Connecting with consumers hasn’t always been easy. Contact typically took place at points of sale, during claims and during renewal periods. Now, with the use of wearables, smart homes and telematics, insurers are connecting with customers on a continual basis and providing valuable feedback – and prices – based on activity levels. The business of insurance is complex, with core factors such as risk evaluation, long-term contracts and unpredictable settlements. However, the benefits of insurtech and the unlimited availability of new sources of data that can be exploited in real time have fundamentally altered how consumers interact with their insurance providers.

IoT devices are helping consumers and insurers get smarter with each passing day as these technologies bring promising results in helping insurers reshape how they assess, price and limit risks and enhance customer experience.

See also: Industry 4.0: What It Means for Insurance  

Connectivity and Opportunities

Numerous technologies have shown how improved connectivity can generate opportunities in the insurance industry beyond personalized premium rates. If implemented properly, IoT applications could possibly boost the industry’s customarily low growth rates. It may help insurers break free from traditional product marketing and competition primarily based on price to shift toward customer service and differentiation in coverage.

Several technology trends that are increasing connectivity in insurance include:

Extended Reality (XR) — XR technologies are altering the way consumers connect with society, information and each other. Extended reality is achieved through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which aim to “relocate” people in time and space. Eighty-five percent of insurance executives in Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 survey believe it is important to leverage XR solutions to close the gap of physical distance when engaging with employees and customers.

Wearable Sensors — Reports indicate that the average consumer now owns 3.6 wearable devices. These technologies can mitigate claims fraud and also transmit real-time data to warn the insured of possible dangers. For example, socks and shoes with IoT apps can alert diabetics on possible odd joint angles, foot ulcers and excessive pressure, thus helping in avoiding costly disability and medical claims and even worst-case scenarios such as life-changing amputations.

Commercial Infrastructure and Smart Home Sensors — These sensors can be embedded in commercial and private buildings to help in monitoring, detecting and preventing or mitigating safety breaches such as toxic fumes, pipe leakage, fire, smoke and mold. This increases the possibility of saving insurers from large claims and homeowners from substantial inconveniences such as lost property or valuables. Savings can be passed to insureds who use these sensors.

Usage-Based Insurance (UBI) Model — Cellular machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity and telematics link drivers and automobiles in entirely new ways. Traditionally, auto insurance has relied on broad demographic features such as gender and the driver’s age, plus a credit score, to set premiums. Now, through IoT devices, insurers can not only offer reward-based premiums but can provide a connected car experience to customers with feedback on weather, traffic conditions or driving habits.

See also: 3 Ways to an Easier Digital Transformation  

Strategy will play an important role in connectivity as insurance carriers transform legacy core systems into digital platforms that support deeper connectivity with their customers. This strategy must address a carrier’s ability to handle, process and analyze the new types of data that will emerge from the use of these technologies. Artificial intelligence will also have a big impact.

According to a recent study, 80% of insurance customers are happier and more content when they can connect with their insurance providers through various channels such as phone, emails, smartphone apps and online. Through the use of the IoT and connected devices, insurers will improve customer experience by shifting from reaction after an event has occurred to preventing losses digitally.

Key Considerations for Managing Innovation

Innovation is critical for every organization, but it is complex and can be very confusing, too. Poor innovation management and ineffective execution are among the key reasons causing innovation failures in organizations.

Many companies lack well-defined innovation strategy and alignment with business strategy, resulting in poor innovation delivery. While it takes time to build the innovation culture, companies must leverage the startup ecosystem, capabilities of partners to augment the innovation gaps and emerging technologies effectively to deliver innovation faster. Innovation silos within the companies are key impediments that dilute innovation and generate poor innovation results.

It is the time for companies to get honest and acknowledge innovation gaps, prioritize top factors affecting innovation and develop clear innovation strategy and plans that are well-aligned with business strategy. This article covers key considerations, describes the current state of innovation within financial services and the insurance industry and provides recommendations for effective innovation delivery.

Balancing Innovation, Startups and Emerging Technologies

Today, there is lots of buzz on emerging technologies, startups and innovation. While the business environment, economic conditions, political situation and core capabilities of many companies have not changed dramatically over the past year, nevertheless the innovation agenda has taken the front seat in almost every organization.

The big question remains: How effectively are companies managing innovation?

Are companies focusing on business innovation or technology innovation or a combination? Which are the proven models for innovation that deliver results? Is partnering with startups sufficient to drive innovation? Which emerging technologies have higher potential for innovation?

See also: Don’t Just Indulge in “Innovation Theater”  

Well, there are no straight and simple answers to these questions. What matters today is: There need to be serious attempts of organizations toward driving innovation, commitment by senior stakeholders, collaborative culture across teams, alignment between top-down and bottom-up innovations, bridging innovation silos within organization and focus on customer-centricity.

Business Values Are Driving Innovation Initiatives

In my interaction with senior business and IT stakeholders of leading financial services companies in the last few months, one thing has emerged clearly: that business values and outcomes are the most
critical element in getting innovation funding. I have met CIOs of leading insurance companies who have expressed concerns about getting buy-in from the business team for business cases as
one of the key hurdles in delivering innovation. While a majority of innovation efforts are still technology-driven or technology-led, only a portion carries real potential to disrupt the business or push the organization to a rapid growth trajectory. Many organizations are still focusing on incremental innovation, while many others are burdened with operational priorities and legacy challenges.

The good news is that financial services and insurance companies are not fearing experimentation. The partnership with startups, the pace of pilot projects using emerging technologies and the participation of companies in industry events, technology conferences and startup events has grown significantly in recent times. Many financial companies are sponsoring hackathons and are welcoming innovation of all types. A good number of companies within financial services and the insurance industry have already partnered with fintech and insurtech and are clearly finding value. The hunt for innovation is furious. The FinTech, InsurTech influence is pushing companies to innovate faster.

Technologies Enabling Innovation Within Financial Services

SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies that were new a few years ago have become a new normal, with high adoption rate across industries. Emerging technologies include blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics process automation (RPA), Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). However, companies are being pragmatic about adopting these technologies.

For example, while it is true that in the last three years more than $1 billion of investment has gone into blockchain technologies alone, with 90-plus companies being part of blockchain consortia across 24-plus countries (according to recent World Economic Forum findings), many companies (insurers, banks and other financial companies) still struggle to identify suitable, viable use cases. The technical complexities and shortage of skills are another big hurdle for adoption of emerging technologies such as blockchain.

While some of these technologies are still evolving, technologies such as AI and RPA are moving faster in terms of adoption within financial services and the insurance industry. For example, AI-enabled chatbot and robo-advisers are moving beyond delivering basic conversational response to enabling channel expansion, enabling cross selling, targeting new segments, delivering training and enabling end-to-end transaction processing within the financial services industry. RPA technologies are also gaining popularity and are in use within financial services and insurance companies, helping
companies automate mundane, repetitive, manual, rule-based tasks or processes. The adoption rate and focus on IoT technologies has been hampered by increased fear of companies toward cyber security risks after various ransomware attacks in the recent past. AR and VR technologies are still hunting for viable use cases within the financial services industry amid the changing shapes and characteristics of AR/VR devices. Emerging technologies are the key enablers for delivering innovation and cannot be ignored any more.

Bridging the Gaps and Making a Balance With Innovation

While every company has a well-defined business strategy and IT strategy that are reviewed periodically, many lack a well-defined innovation strategy. It is time for companies to revisit their innovation strategy, align it to business strategy and make it an integral part of the operating model. The innovation silos, poor governance, complex organizational structure, lack of funding,
talent gaps and organizational politics are a few known elements that hinder innovation delivery. Only a few innovation-driven companies take tangible actions to overcome these challenges and
work toward building an innovation-centric culture. Agility, experimentation, customer validations, pivots, failures and talent development are integral parts of innovation delivery, and
companies that understand that, will measure innovations regularly, reward teams and encourage open innovation.

See also: Pursue Innovation or Transformation?  

While corporate venturing, partnership with startups and acquisitions are some methods to fast-track innovation efforts and mitigate risks, without addressing the root cause that hinders innovation, companies are just postponing the real problems. Startups are a good catalyst for innovation, but many companies merely leverage them as a reference model or mitigation element, which they think they can mimic, buy or obtain through partnership using brand and financial muscles. If companies find many gaps with the existing innovation model, they must explore partnership and acquisition of appropriate startups seriously and integrate them effectively into the companies’ ecosystem to ignite innovation delivery.

Business model innovations that are market- or industry-driven typically deliver successful innovations that are disruptive. Companies that bring together the best elements of
business and technology (talent, people, vision, insights, partners) at the right time, collaborate effectively internally and externally, learn from failures and involve customers in every stage of the innovation life cycle are the ones that are most successful in innovation delivery. In addition, emerging technologies offer numerous opportunities for companies to fast track innovation efforts when coupled with the right business case. Companies must balance the innovation, startups’ influence and the power of emerging technologies for competitive advantage and market leadership.