Bettering the customer experience, from claims convenience to ethical AI

"It's how we are holding ourselves accountable and making sure we're not crossing any boundaries"

Bettering the customer experience, from claims convenience to ethical AI

Life & Health

By Kenneth Araullo

If there is one good thing anyone can say about the global pandemic, it is that it helped people across geographies and demographics become much more conscious about their health and wellbeing. In Singapore, an international business hub that is considered by many to be the gateway to the rest of Asia, the pandemic’s lessons mattered doubly because of how impactful the country is to the global economy.

It is these lessons that Steve Nash (pictured above), Cigna Healthcare Singapore chief operations officer, pins the insurer’s strategies and trends to. In the relatively short duration that he spent in this post, Nash said that there was one aspect so prevalent that it basically set the tone for how these customer trends will move forward for the Lion City.

“I think that one of the things we've seen – and this is something we've backed up with a wellbeing survey that went out at the end of last year – is the reported levels of people stress. To put it bluntly, people are feeling a little bit more stressed,” Nash said in conversation with Insurance Business Asia.

The cause of stress, Nash explained, could be attributed to both physical and mental wellness. As a country basically smack-dab in the centre of important and economy-changing business transactions daily, he also said that this stress was relatively higher than its neighbours.

“The survey was showing that the general response to that was around about 82%; Singapore, just a few percentage points above that. On top of that – and this is something we’ve experienced as well – there was a definite and obvious drop in people taking up elective surgeries for very obvious reasons,” Nash said. “However, there’s also a slightly higher percentage of people having a more focused approach to their own wellbeing.”

After the pandemic dwindled down and lives began to settle into a more normal, pre-COVID state, people’s tendencies to enter hospitals and partake in elective surgeries came up a bit, Nash said. Along with this came a higher volume of claims, although the insurer considered it a chance for a return to form after the slump for the past few years.

Inflation, cost-of-living, and new hurdles

While the pandemic is basically in everyone’s rear view mirror at the moment, there are hurdles that have sprung up to replace it, and these might prove to be more of an issue for industries across the globe. Even Singapore, a model of a well-developed country, is not safe from the clutches of global inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. From Nash’s standpoint, these economic dangers have forced the populace to turn their attention to accessible and affordable healthcare.

“Inflation is certainly on the rise, even in Singapore,” Nash said. “I think that there's a link between what we just discussed and people's behaviours now. People are having a look at job changes and job moves – again, there have been a number of surveys done which are showing that we've got a definite front-of-mind way of thinking around people's employment; where they're being employed, and what they're being employed with, coming back again to a specific focus on wellness.”

“I think that we're also seeing wellness and health insurance being part of that reason for people moving. From our view, people are now asking employers, ‘What is your level of cover? How much focus are you putting on mental and physical wellness?’” Nash said.

From expatriate communities to local, homegrown residents, the cost-of-living crisis is giving rise to changing behaviours that are influencing the rising trend of health insurance. Nash said that awareness regarding the “why’s” and “how’s” of protecting themselves have increased the take up and expansion of policies focused on wellness benefits, and it is certainly shifting the way jobseekers are looking at employers. With that in mind, Cigna Healthcare Singapore has tried to position itself to be a prime insurance partner amidst this wealth of opportunity.

“I think there's two key areas to this, and that's accessibility and affordability. This means having a look at how we can ensure the best member experience, right from the beginning; from choosing a provider, choosing a hospital or a specialist for that type of care, helping support them in that aspect as well,” he said.

Nash cited a number of initiatives that the insurer is working on, particularly around care management, ongoing chronic management, and the all-too-important area of customer experience. As explained in detail by a seasoned insurance veteran, with 70% of premium dollars under its share, it is the claims experience that matters the most in an insurance transaction.

“Cigna is well-regarded in the market in terms of its member choice,” Nash said. “Members have a lot of choice regarding where they can go, and we do have a very defined set and a high number of specialists within our panel. We also like to make sure that when members are choosing our panels, we make it very affordable for them.

“Having said that, part of that member choice is if they do make a claim, and they decide to pay for that claim, is the choice on how to claim it. Cigna is predominantly a cashless organization as we tend to want to make it easy and simple for the member to take on treatment, have a procedure paid for directly to the provider by us as their health insurer, but some members choose to pay directly – that’s fine as well,” he said.

Ethical AI

The topic of AI has seeped into every corner of the insurance industry for the better part of the year; Nash admitted that Cigna itself is quite in-depth in its research to figure out how to best harness this powerful emerging technology.

“Yeah, it's huge,” Nash said. “I don't think you can open your laptop and get onto Google without seeing something about AI. It's a very important subject, and it’s something that Cigna is looking at very, very closely.

“I can give you the overall view in terms of where some of our thinking is on AI. Cigna has recently set up an AI ethics group that’s not specifically for Singapore. One of the three things that we're having a look at is making sure that as we start to look at AI, we need to make sure that we've got ethics which are transparent, and that we're accountable and people are kept safe,” he said.

With hype fogging up the landscape, Nash said that keeping the approach to AI as “human-centred” as possible to be the best way to go. To that end, Cigna is looking at a number of aspects – a definitive reason for using the tech, accountability across stakeholders, and even down to a proper and meaningful explanation for the policyholders.

“It also includes how we are holding ourselves accountable and making sure we're not crossing any boundaries from an AI perspective and from a safety perspective,” Nash said. “It also means ensuring that we are maintaining a human-centred approach. We're not looking at doing anything [that] doesn't have human control when it comes to AI.”

Nash himself was involved in some areas of the insurer exposed to the technology. Cigna Healthcare Singapore has been using AI to harness data and insights in a speedier, more efficient way to create a better care journey and experience for its members, in addition to faster and easier policy setups.

“There are other examples that are not Singapore-specific, but for Cigna these are some of what we've been doing,” Nash said. "One example of Cigna’s use of AI is to identify some cancer diagnosis earlier. Our breast cancer identification model has helped to identify members on average 27 days earlier.”

Expanding markets and better experiences

While Singapore is best known for bespoke solutions for corporate, high-net-worth (HNW), and ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) sectors, Nash said that there was also tremendous value in the lower vistas of the wealth terrace. Since 2019, this has presented Cigna Healthcare Singapore an opportunity to capture a larger piece of the market.

“Cigna is very well known for high-end prime insurance for the global, highly mobile organizations. And I must say, we’ve been doing that very well, for a long time,” Nash said. “However, starting in 2019, what we did was explore and develop into the middle tier, the smaller and medium enterprise, as well as some of the startup organizations which are becoming very, very prevalent in Singapore. Singapore’s a huge hub for startups, and we wanted to make sure that we had a product which was affordable and accessible to that mid-tier market.”

To that end, the insurer developed a proposition called Cigna Care Connect. Nash touted it as something that’s flexible around customer choice, built around cashless and simplified payments, and virtually perfect for the Singaporean in this sector.

“We’ve got a very wide and extensive panel of specialists that are specifically there to address that mid-tier market. So yeah, we put a lot of focus in terms of actually growing the market within Singapore and making it accessible to a much wider audience,” he said.

Whether servicing corporate clients with hundreds or thousands of employees, or the mid-sized startups that are trying to disrupt whatever industry they are in, Nash brought it all back to the customer experience, the most central aspect in Cigna Healthcare Singapore’s existence.

“I think in essence, we focus on what the member journey looks like,” Nash said. “We are putting a lot of focus in Singapore on helping support and manage that member journey. Right from the beginning, we are making the search for the right provider or specialist – very easy to do through our mobile apps or through our platforms.”

It continues to the insurer’s ever-expanding panel of specialists, all of which contribute to better accessibility for the customers. Evidence-based outcomes also play a key role, Nash said, in that they give clients the right outcomes across a whole raft of treatment and procedure types that the insurer carries.

“The other element is much more transactional, as I mentioned earlier, and it’s around making things much easier and simpler to do business with us,” Nash said. “It’s around the speed of turnaround in terms of payment of claims, linked to things like when a member calls in, when they are looking for us to help support their journey with the providers – we want to make sure that we are bringing that into our care management teams, we are supporting them until the end and acting as their advocate as they come in and experience that journey.”

Nash admitted that going through medical healthcare can be a daunting experience, especially for someone going through treatments and procedures. Part of the customer experience means alleviating that stress, and Nash said that Cigna is there to simplify the whole end-to-end journey.

"There was another program that we run, which was around muscular and skeletal health," Nash said. "In Singapore, we were finding that there was a rise in the number of people having aches and pains, leading a slightly more sedentary lifestyle, particularly post COVID. The ongoing prognosis for that is that people become more susceptible to other factors like diabetes, etc."

“How do we support the members, particularly in a preventative way?” Nash asked. “How can we prevent people progressing into potential diabetes with support on wellness around physiotherapy activities? We've had some other elements of activities in the workplace where we've been supporting our clients to allow them to better enable their employees in the workplace to become more active.”

This way of thinking also encapsulates the insurer’s own people, Nash said, and it is something Cigna Healthcare Singapore will try to live by, pandemics and other global crises aside.

“Cigna itself is also very focused on our own employees’ wellness as well, and we've got a number of initiatives, which are both global and local, around getting people involved in preventative care through activity,” Nash said. “I think right now, as we progress, and as we see the kinds of stresses and strains coming out of COVID, as we see stresses and strains from other elements around increasing inflation, uncertainty in the job market in Singapore, particularly in the tech industries, we’re looking to work with our clients, we're looking to work with our members, to look at ways which we can prevent things happening through that early intervention in terms of physical and mental health.”

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