In August 2016, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline teamed with tech colossus Google to launch Galvani Bioelectronics, a company dedicated to developing implantable devices to monitor and modify electrical nerve signals for the treatment of illnesses.
In February of this year, GE Ventures and Northwell Health announced a partnership to develop commercial solutions in bioelectronics medicine. If you wondered when the era of bioelectronic medicine would arrive, it’s already here.
The concept of bioelectronics is nothing new. Pacemakers, hearing aids, and medical imaging are just a few examples of electronics technology applied to medicine that have been with us for years. Advanced electronic health monitoring devices in development, however, seek to take medical treatment adherence and effectiveness to a whole new level.
Ingestion Event Marker (IEM), for example, is a sand particle-sized microchip that can be embedded in drugs to monitor patients' adherence and response to treatments. In 2012 it became the first digestible electronic device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The IEM sensor communicates with a patch worn on the skin that marks the precise time the drug has been taken. Additional metrics collected include heart rate, body position, and activity. The patch relays information to a mobile phone application, and with the patient’s consent, the information is accessible by caregivers and clinicians.
Medical device implants offer another viable means to monitor health care. A new generation of these implants, measuring everything from blood glucose levels to chemotherapy effectiveness, could open up an array of monitoring options. BioStamp, for example, is an “electronic tattoo” equipped with sensors that could potentially allow for continuous monitoring of vital signs and transmit them via wireless technology.
Whether ingested, implanted, or injected, bioelectronic devices promise to transform modern medicine – and the information utilized in the underwriting of life and health insurance. Key considerations include:
- If technology enables real-time monitoring of treatment adherence and effectiveness, the impact on mortality and morbidity outcomes could be profound.
- The process of underwriting will be reshaped by these advances in technology and by the richer, more accurate data that will be submitted as underwriting evidence.
- Continued advances in medical technology will add or enhance the risk screening options for insurers and lead to more sophisticated product offerings and improved underwriting results.
- The use of bioelectronic monitoring will certainly increase, but questions surrounding cost, accessibility, and market variations will determine the timing and scope of widespread adoption.
Technology, by its very nature, accelerates at ever-increasing speed, and this is certainly no different with med tech. We already see game-changing advances in bioelectronics on the horizon, and breakthroughs we cannot yet envision will surely follow close behind. For insurers, the key will be to not only expect these advances but to embrace them, which will require built-in flexibility and adaptability in underwriting practices. While the full impact of bioelectronics in underwriting might be a few years off, RGA continues to research and monitor developments and their potential influence on how to best select and manage risk.