Tech Talk: health apps

BBT takes the pulse of the travel industry’s role in the growing mobile health sector

With terrorist-related attacks on the rise, companies are aware, now more than ever, of the need to monitor their employees’ movements worldwide, acting swiftly if necessary. As a result, TMCs offer apps to keep track of travellers – but what about their health and wellbeing while on the road?

In the healthcare industry, giant strides are being made in technology, and it’s more than Fitbits and smartwatches being able to take pulses.

Healthcare app Now GP, for example, launched in August 2015 (as Dr Now). It connects users to a UK-based GP through smartphone video consultation. Other apps also give scope for symptom checkers and self-diagnosis, while some, such as Echo 112, offer a one-tap call to emergency services.

Health insurance companies, such as Bupa and Allianz, provide apps that store medical details for emergencies, among other functions. Overall, the mobile health (m-Health) market is believed to be worth US$59 billion globally – according to Allied Market Research.

So should TMCs step up and join the m-Health revolution? Often providing up-to-the-minute destination guidance, surely the TMCs’ next step in their evolution is to ensure medical needs are catered for as well?

Chris Day, group procurement manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, believes TMCs are perfectly placed to offer this kind of support: “A TMC should be able to link directly to their booking system and pull all relevant data through to the app from the booking system,” he says.

Life saver
Rosie Mohammad, travel procurement manager at law firm Pinsent Masons, agrees with the need to equip travellers with their medical data should an emergency arise, “if it’s going to save my life – and as long as the data is protected”.

As a result, she believes there should be a “joined-up approach” with employer, TMC and health insurance company “working together to promote the services and benefit”. However, she says “this is not currently happening”.

Following her own review of suppliers, Mohammad selected International SOS’s (ISOS) Assistance app. “We do a lot of travel to high-risk countries and carry out risk assessments, and ISOS helps with guidance. I decided it was the best fit for us.” She uses targeted communication, posters and training to ensure staff are aware.

Sarah Marshall, travel and security manager at international development company DAI, admits that, apart from the iJET app and various first aid apps, she was unaware of the range available.

For now, she says, “we only use the iJET app, which includes a ‘crisis line’ button that allows travellers to call the company crisis line, which in turn links them directly to the insurance medical helpline – the less numbers to remember the better”.

Yet TMCs have differing views on factoring m-Health into their solutions. There are many barriers, not least of which is data privacy notes Amanda Murphy, product marketing manager – UK and Ireland, for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT).

“Data privacy is a concern with some consumer apps, as is the ability of these apps to work with any relevant insurance companies,” says Murphy. “They must also be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, ensuring customer’s data and privacy is protected.”

However, CWT has also partnered with ISOS. “Travellers using the app can access features such as click-to-call for assistance, country guides for trip preparation, push-notifications for alerts and the ability to speak with a doctor,” says Murphy.

Simon Dugan, director of sales at Ian Allan Travel, adds: “Our experience has shown a reticence from travellers to fully complete a traveller profile with information required to make a booking, leading us to question if there would be any appetite or more apprehension to provide medical information to a TMC.”

He says the TMC collaborates with both iJET and ISOS. “The healthcare area of an organisation’s duty of care should fall to the employer to source a specialist with trained healthcare professionals,” he adds.

The soft sell
Another sticking point for TMCs to further explore medical apps is that, legally speaking, they may not be allowed to advise or sell insurance, Dugan adds, due to Financial Services Authority regulations. However, with the growing number of apps on the market, he believes Ian Allen Travel could include links to apps for travellers to download within information packs, with disclaimers.

For John Harvey, group marketing director at HRG, the question is about policy. “The use of apps in travel management is gathering pace,” he says. “What clients look for is consistency, compliance and control. Therefore, as this area is new, it will become an increasing part of the mix of a client’s technology/traveller experience strategy.

“As a global TMC we are involved in policy design and policy management with every client.” Healthcare technology, as a value-added service, could therefore be a consideration, he says.

A further barrier to business travellers using medical apps is also in part due to a lack of a ‘sexy’ image, according to Charlotte Lamp Davies, vice-president at technology consulting firm Data Art. But she is keen to point out that “TMCs are not responsible for the health of the traveller”.

However, she adds: “Technologies shaping health provision for business travel, such as new apps, will increasingly be a part of the offering of travel insurance companies. Upselling apps is an excellent opportunity for them.”  Yet she notes awareness is still low among corporate travellers.

Data Art, which specialises in both travel and healthcare, also believes the industry is just a few years away   from implants and artificial intelligence.

“There is a strong focus on developing wearable technology,” she says. “Within three years
there will be an increased take-up as new apps and wearables are developed. However, in the very near future, health technology for business travellers will move beyond apps.”

It seems many travel buyers are unaware of the wealth of medical app options available to employees – a condition that could, perhaps, be alleviated by some TMC treatment.

Health/medical apps for travellers

International SOS Assistance
Travel security analysis and medical information app.

‘Mission-critical’ intelligence and assistance pre-trip, on location and in an emergency.

Echo 112
App sending your location to local emergency services and currently working on releasing an application programming interface (API). Also offers Medical ID, a mini-medical file with information mainly used in case of emergency.

Now GP
Claimed to be the world’s first healthcare app to diagnose and deliver medication on the go.

Travel solutions tailored towards wheelchair users.


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