Vital signs: Innovations in self-tracking health insurance and social change

  • Steffen Krüger University of Oslo
  • Niamh Ní Bhroin University of Oslo

Abstract

Insurance companies are increasingly harnessing self-tracking data to innovate and create new health and life insurance schemes. These schemes are often hailed as social innovations, and a major growth opportunity for the industry. Clients are invited to track and measure their health behaviour, fitness habits and vital functions. The data produced is submitted directly to the insurer and used for risk assessment. Good health and behaviour are rewarded; while poor health and behaviour relegate the insured to a lower ‘health status’. We undertake a discourse analysis of published materials relating to these innovations to identify the cultural and social changes they introduce. We review four categories of publications identified through a focused literature review. These include (a) marketing and PR material (n=41) (b) journalistic articles (n=37), (c) industry publications (n=14), and (d) academic articles (n=25). Based on our analysis, we argue that these innovations introduce a significant imbalance of power between insurance corporations and consumers. Insurance corporations can select their clients, intervene in their behaviour and determine their value. Furthermore, these innovations threaten to change and erode conceptions of solidarity and fairness that underpin collective insurance schemes.

Published
2020-03-06