Apple Watch (2)

It is clear that there will be a continuing demand for international healthcare provision during 2016 as UK business continues to seek growth from overseas. That expansion is not without its challenges, in particular with the heightened awareness of terrorism. However, it’s not all doom and gloom and in some areas the sector is on the cusp of a revolution due to the improvements in mobile technology.

The number of employees working in a UK-controlled parent company (known as UKFAs or UK Foreign Affiliates) is tracked every year by the Office of National Statistics and it’s an interesting read. The countries with the highest actual number of UK employees were what might be considered to be the usual suspects: the US, India, France, Germany, South Africa, etc. However the list of the countries with the fastest growth in employees working for a UKFA is rather different: Guatemala, Macao, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon are amongst the more unusual destinations.

It’s these further flung destinations where the benefits of mobile technology in international healthcare are more obvious. Employees working overseas will be able to speak to their doctor over a smartphone or tablet, using specific apps or video conference to diagnose symptoms and to provide a course of treatment. Where time is squeezed on both the part of the patient and the doctor, and proximity to urban areas is a limiting factor, technological advancements open the door to rebuilding this relationship.

This technology boom may however have some implications for spending growth. Expectations for spending growth on international healthcare are around five to seven per cent globally but spending growth will be much above this rate in some regions as, whilst technological advancements tend to be offered as a longer-term cost-saving measure, in reality the initial outlay is often inflated. These contradictory forces will be most at play in the Gulf and Far East regions and so more rapid spending growth is quite likely there.

Other areas of change for 2016:

The Affordable Care Act enablement in the US will continue to have ripple effects globally in terms of consolidation not only amongst insurers but also advisers and intermediaries too, in order to promote economies of scale. This consolidation will mean that mass client data is now controlled by the few which means organisations will be better able to predict trends in illness and disease which will ultimately bring huge advancements in patient care and outcomes.

It’s not just mobile technology but wearable technology too that will bring changes to this market. Wearable technology will transform to be more of an analytics and diagnostics tool to assist prevention in the field of international healthcare. We’ve already seen this in the UK but less so amongst a globally mobile workforce. The ageing population also puts a strain on healthcare and makes it more expensive, so there will be an increasing emphasis on collecting good data to improve prevention here as well. This demographic is likely to become better engaged as they understand the health and wellbeing benefits of wearables.

The future is very bright for those involved in global healthcare and in particularly the consumer who is likely to be a very major beneficiary in the short term due to the mobile health revolution that we’re experiencing.

International healthcare is becoming better understood and conversations with businesses are becoming more sophisticated but unfortunately, it will continue to be a moving target for many years to come. As individual countries and regions continually update their legislation, often to protect their own healthcare system, the need to seek expert advice before sending employees abroad is as crucial as ever.

By Doug Rice, Managing Director of Jelf International