Posted: 02 Apr. 2019 5 min. read

AI and RPA can help hospitals and health plans supercharge back-office staff and improve the customer experience

By Steve Burrill, vice chairman, US health care leader, Deloitte LLP

Many people have a great relationship with their doctor…and they might even enjoy the occasional routine office visit. But no one looks forward to sitting in a waiting room surrounded by sneezes and last year’s magazines, or being on hold indefinitely with a health care call center, billing office, or a doctor’s front-office staff. Meanwhile, employees who answer phones, schedule appointments, and process claims might be just as frustrated as the patients they serve.

In the health universe, consumers are becoming the center of gravity and they are demanding better service, more convenience, and easier ways to navigate the health system. These are things they’ve come to expect from other customer-facing industries such as retail, banking, and travel. However, consumers agree health care is more difficult to navigate than other industries, according to our 2018 health care consumer survey findings.

My colleagues and I regularly talk about the positive impact future-of-work technologies—such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI)—can have on clinical outcomes and cost of care. While use of these technologies on the clinical side might seem more interesting, health care organizations should look at the more mundane, back-office functions, too. Technology can improve the customer experience by streamlining some of the repetitive and cumbersome tasks that customer service and administrative staff perform every day. For health plans and health systems, I see this as low-hanging fruit in the move to the future of health and a customer-focused health economy.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions recently surveyed more than 100 chief operating officers (COOs) and chief administrative officers (CAOs) from health systems and health plans and conducted in-depth interviews with 16 others. We wanted to understand how health system and health plan executives are preparing their nonclinical, business, and administrative workforces for the future.

AI could soon drive most customer interactions

The future of work involves reimagining the way work gets done. It addresses generational changes, new technologies and talent models, and increasing consumer demands. Over the next 10 years, nearly half (47 percent) of US jobs could be automated, and in just five years, 95 percent of customer interactions are expected to be driven by AI.1 As work processes become more automated, some employees might worry that jobs are on the chopping block. However, more than 60 percent of 11,000 business leaders say they are actively redesigning jobs around AI, robotics, and new business models, according to our 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report. As many as 133 million new jobs could be created as organizations shift between human workers and machines (AI, robotics, and automation)—a net gain of 58 million jobs, according to a 2018 World Economic Forum report.

These numbers highlight a need for health care organizations to consider prioritizing future-of-work strategies to drive efficiency, improve employee engagement, and ensure a better customer experience. While 65 percent of the health plans and health systems we surveyed say they have a strategic plan and vision for the future of work, only 38 percent are focused on training and developing staff. Most of the health C-suite executives we interviewed understood that many mundane tasks and processes could be automated. However, many of them admitted they didn’t know how to launch broader organization-wide efforts. Here’s how we see the future of work playing out in several areas:

  • Open talent models: Allowing a virtual workforce could mean a deeper talent pool for positions that can be done remotely and regardless of geography. Some health plans are recruiting customer service staff from consumer-focused industries such as banking and retail who are accustomed to engaging with customers. Health systems are just beginning to explore this area, according to our research. The C-suite executives we interviewed recognized a need to build a diverse workforce to help spur new ideas and innovative problem-solving. Managing talent, especially younger employees, can be a challenge, according to Deloitte’s 2017 survey of US health system CEOs. In a separate survey, more than 90 percent of millennial physicians said it is important to strike a balance between work life and personal life, but only 65 percent said they had achieved that balance.2 Technology could help health plans and health systems address these work/life balance issues by enabling employees to work from anywhere.
  • Revenue cycle automation: Health systems tend to employ a lot of people in this area, and the work can be highly repetitive and manual. Many executives are beginning to realize that revenue-cycle processes—such as eligibility determinations, prior authorizations, and claims processing—can be automated. This could free up staff to spend more time on patient interactions. We learned about one hospital that cut its patient billing cycle from 30 days to just three. Long lags in billing can negatively affect the customer experience.
  • Customer service and claims processing: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are intuitive and can be programmed to answer common customer service questions or respond to certain requests. This can give human employees more time to answer complex questions from consumers. To prevent members wasting time on hold, some health plans ask members to leave their question and a call-back number so a customer service rep can call back with an answer.
  • Human resources: Repetitive tasks are common in areas such as recruitment, payroll, and employee engagement. Instead of having employees manually sift through resumes and job applications, AI and RPA could scan applications and resumes, identify key words, and find top talent with expertise in customer service. Other labor-intensive processes, such as payroll, are industry-agnostic and employees could be recruited from other industries that have already adopted future-of-work initiatives.

As they head into a rapidly changing future, health systems and health plans that don’t adjust to the future of work could wind up with dissatisfied customers and an unhappy workforce. Competition for customers and top talent will become more challenging. The real opportunity presented by the future of work can be far greater than just cost savings. The future of work allows organizations to completely reimagine their work, workforce, and workplace as well as the possibilities of what can be created and accomplished. It can usher in innovations that not only improve returns for the company, but also create greater value for employees and consumers.

1. Source: Finance Digest , “AI will power 95 percent of customer interactions by 2025,” March 10, 2017; Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? , Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, September 17, 2013; Dan Kopf, “Almost all the US jobs created since 2005 are temporary,” Quartz, December 5, 2016; Morley Winograd and Dr. Michael Hais, How millennials could upend Wall Street and corporate America , The Brookings Institution, May 2014.
2. American Medical Association, Millennial physicians sound off on state of medicine today , March 27, 2017.


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