Advisers have proposed options including greater use of artifical intelligence (AI) and mandatory excesses to help control the “saturated” use of virtual GPs in the private medical insurance (PMI) market.
The subject proved a hot topic at Health & Protection’s second annual Health Summit as concerns were also raised that some advisers might have been selling PMI based on the virtual GP service, rather than getting the right product for the customer first.
While describing virtual GP services as “excellent”, Emma Wood, director of healthcare at Broadway Insurance, told delegates the market was at risk of saturation.
“I think that it’s been sold after the pandemic as a free service whereas it is a value added benefit. And although it’s classed as a free service at some point it’s been saturated and there’s a cost behind that,” she said.
“We are all going to have to find a way to develop that service whether that be AI, but I think the service is great, it’s well established and well received. It’s just can we build on it now to make sure it’s sustainable long term.”
Demand up exponentially
Wayne Pontin, non-executive chairman at Infimo (pictured), agreed that demand for virtual GP services had increased “exponentially”, but was worried about some of the reasons for this.
“The providers and advisers capitalised on this demand by promoting these services as a must have,” Pontin said.
“People could not get in touch with their GPs so we promoted it. Some advisers were actually selling PMI first and foremost with access to GPs.
“The problem with that is you’re going to get a situation where demand for GP services outstrips the supply. That will be disastrous for the industry.”
Pontin added that that there was a problem if advisers and insurers are selling PMI off the back off virtual GP services.
“I’m all for virtual GPs but I would urge providers to consider the supply is there and we don’t outstrip the demand for it,” he said.
But Pontin suggested a possible solution.
“If we’re going to control that supply and demand problem and we’re not going to reach a situation where the demand for virtual GPs means that the supply can’t be met, why don’t we consider things like mandatory excesses on virtual GPs?” Pontin asked.
“There are already schemes out there that limit the usage,” he continued.
“But on virtual GPs, Axa put out a statistic that pre-pandemic it was getting roughly 17,000 appointments from people using their GP services. Post-pandemic it is getting 55,000 appointments. That is a huge rise.
“So let’s control it a little bit. Control that exposure.”
Recognising the impact virtual GPs were having in the market, Fiona Booth, head of external affairs and stakeholder engagement at Healthcode, was asked whether the online invoice processing service collected data on where referrals came from including virtual GPs.
Booth noted while this data was not carried at present, this may change in future.
“That’s not on the invoice,” Booth said.
“At this point in time we’re just using the data that’s on that invoice and that’s it. I think going forward I expect we will.”