Insurers Adopt Telehealth to Widen Access to Healthcare

Written by Isaac Khisa

July 27th, 2021

Credits: The Independent

Globally, insurers have been perceived as slow to evolve and embrace innovation. But the coronavirus pandemic is flipping the narrative, as some insurers rapidly innovate to help consumers manage risks and protect against losses.

One such innovation; is providing telehealth services in partnership with healthcare providers to their clients subscribed to health insurance as coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc across various sectors.

For more than a year now, seven insurance giants and a Health Membership Organisation– UAP Old Mutual, Jubilee, Liberty, Sanlam, Prudential, GA Uganda, Insurance Company of East Africa and AAR –have rolled out telehealth services, allowing the partnering health care provider, Rocket Health Clinic, to bill them for services rendered to their clients via mobile phones.

The services rendered here includes; patients’ access to medical doctors 24/7 via toll free phone calls or WhatsApp for consultation, patients sample collection from their preferred locations for laboratory tests and medicines delivery within Kampala.

Also, a special arrangement has been added for patients with chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension to enable them access medicines and regular health check-ups without having to travel to the health facility.

Paul Kavuma, the chief executive officer at the Uganda Insurers Association (UIA), the apex body that brings together the country’s 29 insurers, reinsurance and HMOs told The Independent in an interview that COVID-19 triggered the new innovation to help their health insurance clients’ access health care services.

“We needed this innovation now than ever because the interface of our clients with the health care providers was a challenge since the government imposed restrictions on movement to curb spread of COVID-19,” Kavuma said.

“So, once we tested the product and found out that it was working efficiently…we said we had found a solution.”

Kavuma said, it is surprising that telehealth services appears to be cheaper to the industry as a result of standardized consultation fees and price of medicines.

This is the first time that the country’s insurers have moved past the government’s overall duty to come up with an enabling regulation to support the operationalization of some services such as telehealth.

The private sector health care providers and the government have in the past three-four years squabbled over the need for telehealth regulation, but they have all fallen short of drafting one.

Dr. Davis Musinguzi, the managing director of The Medical Concierge Group, the service provider of Rocket Health Clinic said patients interested in tele-consultations has been on the increase since the outbreak of the pandemic last year as more people stay away from hospitals, now marked as hotspots for possible spread of COVID-19.

He said the demand for tele-consultation services at Rocket Health Clinic grew nearly five-fold in 2020 compared with the previous year. The patients using the medical insurance rather than cash in payment for the services rendered to them grew nearly nine-fold during the same period under review.

This rhymes with the current statistics at the industry regulator, Insurance Regulatory Authority of Uganda, which indicates that insurers recorded a sharp growth in gross written premiums in health and medical insurance policies from merely Shs12.5bn in 2014 to Shs36.2bn in 2019 due to surge in demand.

However, insurance penetration remains at less than 1% compared to the African continent’s average of an estimated 3%.

“The long-term goal and vision of Rocket Health are to be the leading world-class digital health company in Africa,” Dr. Musinguzi said.

“Throughout the pandemic period, telemedicine has proven to be the future of healthcare. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that everything that we can routinely access physically, we should be able to access virtually.”

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