Technology is a wonderful thing and in the case of medical advances, its role is nothing short of vital. A new form of technology, however, could well cause some controversy for those people who want private health insurance and may spark a rather ‘Luddite’ debate on the possibility that companies have taken things a little bit too far.
Private health insurers in the future may well ask customers to send in a selfie for them to examine, before accepting the risk. The reasoning for this is based on the scientific field called facial analysis which gives medical insurers the tools to scrutinize the picture of a potential client to gain crucial clues about their state of health.
This is starting to gain traction in the US, with many large insurance companies buying the specialist computer software programs that can tell if somebody smokes, has recently been ill, or has not got a standard life expectancy. It is grounded on the interesting principle that the faster somebody ages, then the shorter their life expectancy.
While the NHS is by far the biggest provider of healthcare in the UK, the number of people opting to go for private medical insurance is increasing and there are now 3.94 million people in the UK with private health insurance. Technology has already started to impact private health insurance plans such as this one, and there are concerns that facial analysis will start to be implemented in the UK too.
Using facial analysis for insurance purposes is a divisive subject, with critics claiming that sending in a selfie is no more than an invasion of privacy that may, in the long term, have the effect of hiking up premiums.
Currently, when customers apply for insurance, they are expected to fill in detailed health questions though the insurer rarely checks whether the answers given are correct and only occasionally asks permission to review medical records. This new system could mean that anybody applying for health insurance must send in a facial photo to confirm their health against the level claimed by the customer.
So, for example, the creases around the lips will reveal if the person in the photograph is a smoker. Having cheeks that are hollow could mean some form of addiction to drugs, and a large bulbous nose is the classic sign of a drinker.
When asked about this new development, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers stated the current processes in place were well established and reliable and did not feel that the facial analysis technology would provide better information on a person’s insurance risk. Though whether this will change in the future is yet to be seen.
Scientists who have developed the system say that it is able to predict if a person will die young; critics predict that this is all leading to higher premiums. Just like the Luddites had a mistrust of new machinery, there is mistrust of science, and just maybe some fear that it is a step too far.