Special Report: Health insurers are spending on preventative health just as digital monitoring apps like Respiri’s wheezo reach maturity.

Health insurers are speeding up a long-term trend towards prevention and monitoring as they seek to keep their members out of the increasingly expensive hospital system.

Respiri (ASX:RHS) chief and managing director Marjan Mikel says healthcare is moving online and into the home.

“I think the big interest from private health insurers is to keep patients out of the hospital system and move treatment into a home setting,” he told Stockhead.

“But you can’t do that unless you have the ability to monitor a patient’s progress in real time remotely. Private health insurers have begun to understand that the more they can move healthcare out of hospitals, which is probably the largest cost to them, the better it is for them.”

A study in 2013 suggested that the potential cost of medication‐related hospital admissions alone in 2011–12 was about $1.2bn.

Apps such as Cardihab, the cardiac rehab monitoring system used by Medibank, prevent relapses and further cardiac events because it allows people who can’t attend the two months of two-to-three clinic visits a week following an operation to do the rehab from home, yet still with clinical support

Others like Respiri’s app wheezo help mitigate the risk of events by helping both engaging asthma sufferers with their condition and better follow their asthma management plan.

The technology detects the wheeze, a typical symptom of asthma, COPD and respiratory disease, while also providing personalised feedback and education based on the user’s health data and other environmental factors, and enables the sharing of that data with caregivers and health care professionals.

A PWC report named keeping people healthy, integrated care, and digital and analytics as three of the top seven ways of reducing health costs.


The catalyst

The explosion in telehealth-enabled prevention and monitoring is all due to the advent of the Internet of Things and the cloud. One has enabled the collection of information, the other has enabled the mass sharing of that data quickly and cost effectively.

Five years ago, a wheezo or a Cardihab would not have been possible as data costs around sending audio files or ECG data were simply too high.

“You only have to go back a few years to see how expensive it was to transfer large data flows. It wasn’t possible to move a file of a couple of gig because there were no platforms to do that,” Mikel said.

“The technology has been there in devices, but the ability to move the data wasn’t.”

Treatment delivery has caught up — it’s possible to deliver chemotherapy in the home — but effective monitoring is the next stage.

The big-ticket health issues have monitoring solutions. It’s now easy to monitor a patient’s heart, or type-2 diabetes which has used 24-hour glucose monitoring devices for some time. But other more common and generally less lethal conditions are still waiting for their tech enabler.

“Today there is nothing available for respiratory illness that provides a carer team with the ability to know how well their patient’s asthma is being controlled or managed,” Mikel said.

“Our SaaS app brings to life an asthma management plan developed by the patient’s doctor. Normally these are a piece of paper that’s never shown the light of day, but a good plan will engage patients and include what happens if things get bad, such as in the case of a respiratory infection.

“It provides patients with a tool that can help them provide information to carers and have a clear understanding of what needs to happen when things aren’t normal, but also help them to manage their condition on a day-to-day basis.”


Could we see a public interest? 

While health insurers are jumping on digital options as a cost saving measure, Mikel doesn’t think the public purse will be large enough to do the same.

“We have one of the best healthcare systems in the world with universal access for everyone,” he said.

“But where does the money come from? Although prevention is better than treatment it’s always a balancing act of how to continue to provide the quality of care we already have, even though a lack of medicine compliance is a key reason for why people end up in hospital.

“The answer lies in behavioural change and a conversation around people’s health. What we are trying to do is offer education around medicine compliance while at the same time providing a service that catches respiratory illness early.”

This includes agreements such as with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to develop an online training course for pharmacists on optimising asthma patient management, in particular children, including the role of devices in detecting wheeze.


This article was developed in collaboration with Respiri, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.
This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.