Smartphone behaviour, benefits plans and the demographic shift

As the ways that Canadians use smartphones and apps continue to evolve, what are the implications for those technologies in health-care and wellness services?

According to recent studies by digital marketing company Catalyst Canada, the number of apps per smartphone is declining, but the actual use of them is becoming more specialized. The studies note that, despite the general decline in usage, certain types of apps continue to dominate, including news services, chatting and messaging, banking and health care. Also, advances in technology, including artificial intelligence, and the evolution of the workforce will continue to drive smartphone services; member, plan sponsor and carrier behaviour; and offerings and experience.

Read: Assessing the impact of online therapy as digital health tools proliferate

It’s common today for most smartphone users to have two or more health-care apps. They may include apps for carrier claims submission, benefits plan management and wellness or fitness. According to Catalyst Canada’s studies, millennials are the generation that’s most comfortable when it comes to using and sharing their online experiences, which may point to an opportunity to engage them in a deeper online dialogue about their health care.

Catalyst Canada believes millennials’ use of online chat and media sites such as Instagram, Vine and Snapchat are an indication of nascent virtual networks. The sites can be anathema to older generations that tend to rely on text messages and perhaps Facebook Messenger, which may not support future growth in quite the same way.

As baby boomers and generation Xers age leave the workforce, millennials will start to age and begin using more health-care services the way their older counterparts did. Given their already-established high comfort level with technology, the reliance on online and smartphone health-care engagement seems all but certain.

It also seems reasonable to expect that growth potential to expand the range of services, beyond simple electronic reminders to more robust active health-care management, such as help to ensure adherence to schedules for maintenance medication. If the new medium is becoming an important part of tomorrow’s virtual network — and as today’s smartphone technology already incorporates biometric and face recognition capabilities — then the future for delivering secure and private mobile health-care and benefits programs becomes even more interesting.

Read: The role of technology in improving access to timely care

Today, provincial telehealth programs and services for medical second opinions make good use of technology. But those virtual networks, along with advancements in artificial intelligence and embedded smartphone security, may give rise to more applications for private and convenient mental-health services, complex case management and specialty drugs. Again, millennials in the workforce and the market at large will drive change through their unique set of immediate online expectations.

LIMRA’s 2015 study on consumer internet use for buying insurance in the retail market provides some indication of those expectations. While the study relates specifically to the purchase of life insurance, it nonetheless provides insight into the differences between the generations and how they relate to the online experience.

For example, it found that 51 per cent of survey respondents look online for information but want personal service and help in making purchase decisions. One respondent, from generation X, said: “It is useful to have information available online, but I would not purchase that way ever. I need to ask questions, receive advice and maybe someone needs to help point me in the right direction, not just the generic stuff online.”

On the other hand, 18 per cent of survey respondents said they want a completely online experience, from research to purchase decisions, without talking to sales agents. One millennial survey respondent said: “Make it easier to get information online. Make it easier to get a quote and buy [online]. It’s nearly impossible now . . ..”

Read: Does artificial intelligence have a place in human resources?

Technology and artificial intelligence are likely to drive lower costs and provide more expedient services for all plan members, regardless of their location. That means employees in remote locations, smaller communities and shift workers will have more immediate access to enhanced health care. Technology and artificial intelligence will also allow insurance carriers and public health providers to operate with greater online security and lower costs, which ultimately helps to sustain benefits plans and contain costs. It all adds up to significant power and means to change the future, all in the palm of someone’s hand.