4th Swiss Re Symposium on Data Protection: Ethics and e-health in insurance

The digital transformation of the insurance industry is one of the key challenges facing all its players. Digital technology is being implemented across the whole value chain, from distribution through underwriting to claims. This raises crucial questions concerning market dynamics and competitors, customer behaviour, data use, artificial intelligence and more.

Our 4th Symposium on Data Protection looked at one particular aspect of the digital transformation: “Ethics and e-health in insurance”. Capturing new and personalised health data sets, such as real-time monitoring of fitness and exercise data through wearable devices and mobile apps, has clear benefits for individuals as it helps them to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Likewise, it would also have advantages for life and health insurers, enabling them to spot upcoming problems their clients may be facing and to give them corresponding advice. It might even make it possible to provide cover to people so far considered “uninsurable”.

However, the use of such data also raises serious ethical questions that go beyond data and privacy protection. Making sure that no individuals or groups are disadvantaged by the information derived from big data algorithms will be essential. Furthermore, there are concerns about the potential misuse of health and health-related data, inaccurate algorithms, false outcomes and over-diagnosis. These concerns have prompted the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example, to focus on the governance of health and health-related data, substantially strengthening the rights of data providers and requiring more transparency from data users. As it was argued at the conference, a sound ethical base will be indispensable to create the necessary trust in new ways of managing and analysing health data.