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Hackers help Desjardins innovate in group insurance

By Hubert Roy | August 22 2016 07:00AM

Josée Dixon

Desjardins Insurance is hosting hackathons, where hackers concoct innovative solutions to improve Canadians’ health. The best ideas are migrated to Desjardins Lab, a test space for new technologies.

Josée Dixon, senior VP, group insurance at Desjardins, underlines that improving employee health is a key concern for businesses.

 “The number of chronic diseases is rising. 40% of the Canadian population is affected. You also have to consider the impact of large claimants, and the hair-raising prices of major drugs, which cost the industry dearly…We have to focus on how we can help employers offer plans that meet their employees’ needs while controlling costs, and never to their disadvantage,” she says.

For Desjardins, prevention is the best solution. Yet the message does not always sink in. We have to strive to find ways to encourage plan members to take better care of their health, Dixon says.

Innovate to stand out

To stand out, Desjardins is striving to innovate in the group insurance market, Dixon adds. For one, it has partnered with Hacking Health, a Canadian non-profit organization with international reach that stimulates innovation in healthcare.

The first hackathon took place in Montreal in November 2015. It brought together 500 people, including 28 teams of hackers. Each team had 48 hours to come up with an innovative solution on one of five themes: a healthy and active lifestyle, mental health and stress management, work-family balance, health knowledge and improvement of patient/care provider communication.

After 48 hours, each team had three minutes to present their solutions. The two best ones are currently in the development and test phase at Desjardins Lab.

Why harness hackers to innovate in group insurance? “Hacking has certain connotations, but hackers are IT specialists who can create pertinent things, particularly to help group plan members manage their health,” Dixon explains.

The objective is to modify people’s behaviour. “This is a problem that we want to tackle in healthcare. We created hackathons to find solutions to problems in the market.”

Desjardins customers and market intermediaries applauded the hackathon initiative, Dixon adds.

“The innovative aspect was very well received. Now we must execute the solution. Members’ smartphones will play a role,” she explains.

Desjardins is convinced that to innovate successfully in group insurance it must develop smartphone apps rather than gadgets that take measurements. “We are even seeing this in health and wellness. Just look at the FitBit bracelet: 33% stopped using it after six months. After one year, 50% gave it up. It has become a recreational app. If people use it to improve their health, it becomes a tool,” Dixon says.

She adds that if the application is used properly, people will share their experience on social media. To harness innovation effectively, four essential conditions must be met, Dixon explains.

First, you need to bring all the actors together in a favorable ecosystem. “Our customers are there, as are the market intermediaries and the healthcare community. We need to connect them all,” Dixon explains.

Involve people

Second step: involve people. “You have to invite people who will be the receivers of the solution, to influence business decisions. When we organize a hackathon, we invite the healthcare world and employers, as well as employees. They will tell the hackers what they need. The whole thing is then tested on the public, Dixon says.

The next step is sharing. “The virtual community is the key to success. Sharing data to generate reactions is very important.

The last key to success: find the right ways to innovate. “Traditionally, in group insurance it involved drug prices. That’s important, but working on this aspect does not involve the target audience – plan members,” Dixon says.

Dixon did not elaborate on the application or solutions that will drive Desjardins innovations in the group insurance sector. No precise launch date has been set. She did say that Desjardins is trying to advance as fast as possible, while prioritizing relevance.

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