1/n: Digital Health – the backbone of Life & Health Insurance InsurTech

Posted by

Reading time: about 6 minutes 


  • Why Digital Health for an actuary?
  • Digital disruption is transforming modern life leading to hyper-personalization
  • Health services and Insurance are based on group outcomes
  • Hence also have shared challenges!
  • Actuaries are best placed to bring risk and financial sense to Digital Health

I had enrolled in the ME Integrated – Metallurgy course at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, during my graduation days. However, I discontinued the study at the end of two semesters. Ever since, a mild sense of discontent had lingered on about letting go of a master’s degree from this prestigious institute. I was destined to be a life actuary, not a metallurgist!

Recently IISc started an online course for working professionals along with NSE – Talent sprint [About Us (talentsprint.com)] in Digital Health and Imaging [Digital Health Programme by IISc and TalentSprint]. This course was an ideal combination too challenging to resist, a combination of Digital Health and the IISc. So, finally, I get to rest my discontent!

The course was as I expected, true to the depth of IISc teaching. This course is about six months long, with 4 hours of teaching on weekends. The course is equivalent to 6 credits; a typical beginner semester for a bachelor of engineering degree consists of 12 credits. The capstone project consists of well-curated AI projects on medical images.

I already have tons of reference materials and several new perspectives at the end of the first month, thanks to Professor Phaneendra Yalavarthy. As he mentions, he attempts to provide a very high-level summary, but a good grasp of the emerging field will require much research.

This is the first of the series of blog, I plan to keep jotting down my Digital Health, AI, and Imaging learnings through the course, trying to see them through my actuarial and regulatory/legal experiences with tags #InsurTech and #DigitalHealth.

Why Digital Health for an actuary?

Digital Health, in simplest terms, is the accommodation of recent digital innovations like mobile, web, computing power, cloud, AI/ML, and blockchain into our health services. A good definition of Digital Health and better articulation need a separate blog in itself. 

Digital disruption is transforming modern life leading to hyper-personalization:

Digital disruption has touched almost every aspect of our modern life. It enables communication in real-time, which is quite transformative in every field. The Internet has demonetized knowledge while increasing computing power and bandwidth have resulted in the cloud with on-demand and unlimited scaling of computing power. The same goes for storage. The prolific knowledge and cheaper processing power and storage lead to the collection of massive data and churning of the data to provide insights beyond human comprehension. With these insights and enablement, individuals have begun to experience hyper-personalization services, a personalization that considers personal preferences, socio-economic upbringing, current status, and, worse, social media-driven perceptions. Therefore, almost any service needs to transform itself to cater to instantaneous response and customization.

Health services and Insurance are based on group outcomes:

But unlike instant gratification needs like banking, mobility, or hospitality services, both health and insurance services will need some aggregation first. The way to hyper-personalize these services has to go through the collection of a large number of individual details as a necessary intermediary stage. Health services are moving from illness to wellness space, but unless a standard protocol exists between disparate stakeholders (hospitals, individuals, physicians, labs, payers, and others) to exchange and collect data, the ideal individual-centric health care is not possible. The data is very heterogeneous too, generated from lifestyle, medical treatments, tests, and like. 

The same data aggregation challenge is present in Insurance too. Insurance is primarily about sharing the risks, which unfortunately works only with the law of large numbers principle. Therefore, information gathered about a large number of individual risks is necessary for hyper-personalized Insurance. This data need is similar to the aggregation required for developing a personal well-being care framework in Digital Health. Moreover, the Digital Health by moving health care from illness to wellness space directly impacts individuals’ health outcomes that drive the life and health insurance offerings.

One can argue that all InsurTech attempts to hyper-customize insurance offerings are derivatives of Digital Health innovations. For example, targeted insurance sales need access to health status to identify niche customer segmentation. Underwriting directly depends upon the health records, more so in the world where wellness data continues to flow to insurers; or the solutions targeting policy lapses, where a healthy portfolio is targeted. Insurance innovations look like wrappers around Digital Health innovations, helping to better target, segment, and manage the in-force block of insured lives portfolio.

Hence also have shared challenges!

Another important aspect is the nature of data that is common for these two areas, very personal sensitive, leading to increased risk of fraud and misappropriations. With the fast-changing nature of data and new tools to handle and wrangle this personal data, consent from data owners becomes complicated. How does one take consent for future unknown uses of data? Would you consent to Pizza Hut to share your data with your dietician, who shares data to an insurtech app to decide that you are eating more double-cheese with cheese-filled crust than your neighbor? With continuous personal data collection, consent is needed to be updated and enhanced with newer uses. The right to be forgotten poses an even higher challenge; you might have already guessed that anything you put on the web has really no way of being erased with no trace. One never knows if a backup server that went to unexpected sleep will come alive like Wall-E

Actuaries are best placed to bring risk and financial sense to Digital Health:

Like medical professionals who take the oath and are bound by their professional body, the accrediting actuarial professional bodies make reasonable efforts to enforce integrity, competence, care, impartiality, compliance, and other essential traits, [example]. These high professional standards seem to be more challenging to implement in the emerging Digital Health space, given the diverse set of stakeholders apart from regulated medical doctors. For example, consider the ethical issues of applying AI to health data. How do we even begin to comprehend the underlying biases and unfair practices that reflect the societal, political, and economic inequities that we are living today? Big data is a mirror; it can’t help but show us what we are today. 

This complex and evolving space is a rightful and desired expansion of scope for actuaries. They can bring in the sense and comprehension of long-term risk and financial impacts, and the ability to look at data to ask the right questions based on experience and data. But, more importantly, they bring in proven strong personal and professional ethics and trust to identify the biases and unfair aspects (dutybound, unlike broader data analysts, any failure risks actuary’s disqualification). 

I wish my insights will add to the growing comprehension of how digital disruption can lead to a brave (strange?) new world, a far hyper-personal and better equitable world (hopefully). If interested, keep watch on blog posts as I continue to summarize my learnings through the course with blogs with hashtags #DigitalHealth #InsurTeach #actuary. 


 I currently work full-time at Swiss Re, Bengaluru. The blogs and articles on this website www.balajos.com are the personal posts of myself, Balachandra Joshi, and only contain my personal views, thoughts, and opinions. It is not endorsed by Swiss Re (or any of my formal employers), nor does it constitute any official communication of Swiss Re.

Also, please note that the opinions, views, comprehensions, impressions, deductions, etc., are my takes on the vast resources I am lucky to have encountered. No individuals or entities, including the Indian Institute of Science and NSE Talent Sprint who have shown me where to research, or the actuarial professional bodies that provide me continuous professional growth support, are responsible for any of these views; and these musings do not by any stretch of imagination represent their official stands; and they may not subscribe/support/confirm any of these views and hence can be held liable in any vicarious way. All the information in the public space is shared to share the knowledge without any commercial advantages.