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Robots performing surgeries? New hip joints "printed" on command? "House calls" made from hundreds, even thousands of miles away?

What seemed like science fiction just a few years ago has become an everyday reality as technology is revolutionizing the way healthcare is delivered.

Innovation changes health care for the better

Back in 2010, a video of a surgical robot sewing a split grape back together seemed so improbable, it went viral, garnering more than 5 million views ["Suturing a Grape," YouTube clips (various uploads).] Fast forward to today, and robot-assisted surgery is firmly in the mainstream, used for gallbladder, prostate, gynecologic and kidney surgeries. The benefits of this minimally invasive technique are significant, including faster recovery times, shorter hospital stays, and less patient down time.

3D printing, still in its relative infancy, is already making massive contributions in healthcare. 3D-printed joint components have been used in more than 100,000 hip replacement surgeries over the past decade, according to a GE Report from March of 2018. The next evolution for 3D printing will be even more spectacular, promising the ability to print artificial organs, blood vessels, and even synthetic ovaries.

At a time when there is a shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas, telehealth is becoming a viable alternative to an in-office visit.

Virtual medical providers enable doctors to treat millions of Americans each year through internet and telephone consultations. That's based on estimates from a recent J.D. Power study from July 2019, which found 9.6% of the adult population has used telemedicine in the past year. More than 75 percent of hospitals use telehealth services, too, as noted by the American Hospital Association Fact Sheet dated February 2019. Patients can consult with a doctor via phone or video, and receive diagnoses and prescriptions. Some employers use telehealth to provide virtual health clinics for employees.

Managing the cost

While such health innovations are exciting, they come at a cost.

That's where supplemental insurance can play a key role, enabling employers to offer a benefits option that provides added financial security over and above traditional health insurance. Beyond financial security, supplemental insurance also offers employees peace of mind.

"Employees are increasingly shouldering the high cost of medical care, especially when it comes to new medical solutions," says Teresa White, president of Aflac U.S. In fact, 85 percent of employees see the need for supplemental insurance benefits to cover such costs, according to the Aflac WorkForces Report.

Adding to the challenge is the complexity of what's covered and what isn't under traditional health insurance.

"Health care today isn't simple," says Virgil Miller, Aflac EVP and chief operating officer. "Some consumers are confused by their benefit options and what their health care plans cost and cover. Our annual Aflac WorkForces Report found that just 39 percent of employees have a full understanding of their health insurance policies.

"And with medical debt being the most common reason people fall behind on bills, supplemental benefits such as Aflac's should be a priority on every smart preparation checklist. Aflac helps cover the expenses health insurance doesn't."

Innovations improve insurance, too

Customer concerns like these led Aflac to create online tools like its easy-to-use critical illness calculator. "The calculator makes it easier for consumers to understand typical out-of-pocket heath care expenses and how Aflac's critical illness coverage can help cover the costs health insurance doesn't cover," Miller says.

Aflac sees technological innovation as essential in serving its policyholders. To provide good customer service, Aflac worked with several industry experts on a technique called journey mapping to understand the various touch points and pain points customers have. "Through journey mapping, our customer experience teams created reliable road maps of where we needed to take our technology in the future," adds Keith Farley, vice president of innovation for Aflac.

One byproduct of this research is an advanced mobile app called MyAflac. With the MyAflac mobile app, policyholders can handle myriad healthcare-related tasks, ranging from filing a claim to signing up for direct deposit of their insurance payments, right from their phones. Combined with Aflac's One Day PaySM initiative, it helps get payments into the hands of policyholders faster than ever. "Our goal is to help policyholders worry less about finances and focus more on recovery, which can lead to better health outcomes," adds Miller.

Innovation is woven into every level of Aflac's culture. Farley points to My Special Aflac Duck as a perfect example of this. "This isn't just a toy, it is a high-tech robot that interacts with children, helping provide them with comfort as they move through their cancer treatment. As a company, we have been blown away by the response," Farley says.

The company has invested millions of dollars into this program including donating to cancer research, developing the duck and giving away more than 5,000 of them to pediatric cancer patients at more than 220 hospitals in 47 states.

Innovation is also at the heart of how Aflac designs its benefits policies. Aflac's cancer policy, for example, helps policyholders take greater advantage of cutting-edge medical techniques. "Genetic testing helps identify potential health risks and help people understand and prepare for potential risks. Screenings can also save lives. Aflac's cancer policy is designed to reflect the evolution of patient needs and challenges, and it helps cover modern approaches to prevention, early detection and diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care," White says.

At Aflac, innovation is more than saving money and improving efficiencies. It is part of its mission to help employers support their employees to lead healthier and happier lives. At the end of the day, it's about growing consumer trust and satisfaction, Miller says.

One Day PaySM is available for certain individual claims submitted online through the Aflac SmartClaim process. Claims may be eligible for One Day Pay processing if submitted online through Aflac SmartClaim, including all required documentation, by 3 p.m. ET. Documentation requirements vary by type of claim; please review requirements for your claim(s) carefully. Aflac SmartClaim is available for claims on most individual Accident, Cancer, Hospital, Specified Health, and Intensive Care policies. Processing time is based on business days after all required documentation needed to render a decision is received and no further validation and/or research is required. Individual Company Statistic, 2019.

Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and American Family Life Assurance Company of New York. WWHQ | 1932 Wynnton Road | Columbus, GA 31999.

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Published on: Oct 29, 2019