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Mar 28, 2018

Has Alexa changed your life yet? Vacuum the floor, start the dishwasher, feed the cat, clean the litter box, order more paper towels and lower the thermostat. That’s just a few items from the to-do list I handed over to Artificial Intelligence today – and all without one manual click or key stroke. Whew, no more straining my index finger to push all those buttons. 

While all of this has a certain “cool” factor, it’s completely transforming our lives. Gone are the days when Artificial Intelligence (AI) meant a robot such as C-3PO or Rosie (the robot maid from the Jetsons). AI is no longer a sci-fi futuristic hope, it’s a set of algorithms and technologies known as Machine Learning (ML). 

We’re quickly moving toward this technology powering many tasks in everyday life. But what about healthcare? How might it impact our industry and even our day-to-day jobs? I’m sharing 4.5 things you should know about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the healthcare industry and how it will impact our future.

1. There’s a difference between Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

Jeff Bezos, visionary founder and leader of Amazon, made this declaration last May: “Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will be used to empower and improve every business, every government organization, every philanthropy - basically there’s no institution in the world that cannot be improved with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.” 

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence have emerged as key buzzwords, and often times are used interchangeably. So, what’s the difference?

Machine Learning uses Artificial Intelligence to process large amounts of data and allows the machine to learn for itself. You’ve probably benefitted from Machine Learning in your inbox. Spam filters are continuously learning from words used in an email, where it’s sent from, who sent it, etc. In healthcare, a practical application is in the imaging industry, where machines learn how to read CT scans and MRIs allowing providers to quickly diagnose and optimize treatment options.

Artificial Intelligence is the ability of machines to behave in a way that we would consider “smart.” The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Artificial Intelligence is the ability to be abstract, creative, deductive – to learn and apply learnings. Siri and Alexa are good examples of what you might be using today. In healthcare, an artificial virtual assistant might have conversations with patients and providers about lab results and clinical next steps. 

out of pocket costs

2. The healthcare industry is primed for disruptors. 

It’s no secret that interacting with the healthcare system is complex and frustrating. As consumers are paying more out of pocket, they’re expecting and demanding innovation to simplify their lives, get educated, and save money. At the same time, we’re starting to get a taste of what Machine Learning and AI can do for their daily lives. These technologies WILL dramatically change the way we work in healthcare. Don’t take my word for it, just review a few of the headlines over the past year. 

A conversational robot explains lab results. Learn more.

A healthcare virtual assistant enables conversational dialogues and pre-built capabilities that automate clinical workflows. Learn more.

Google powers up Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning accelerator for healthcare. Learn more.

New AI technology uses brief daily chat conversations, mood tracking, curated videos, and word games to help people manage mental health. Learn more.

A machine learning algorithm helps identify cancerous tumors on mammograms. Learn more.

Soon, will a machine learning algorithm serve up a choice of 3 benefit plans that are best for my situation? Maybe Siri or Alexa will even have a conversation with me about it.

3. Be smart about customer data.

Being in healthcare and seeing the recent breaches, most of us have learned to be very careful about our security policies and customer data. As the use of Machine Learning grows in healthcare, continue to obsess over the privacy of your customer data. There are two reasons for this…

First, data is what makes Machine Learning and AI work. Without data, there’s nothing to mine and that means there’s no info from which to learn. Due to the sheer amount of data that Machine Learning technology collects and consumes, privacy will be more important than ever. Also, there's potential for a lot more personally identifiable data to be collected. It will be imperative that companies pay attention to masking that data so the specific user is not revealed. These steps are critical to ensure you and your customer are protected as laws continue to catch up with this emerging technology

Second, you’re already collecting A LOT of data on your clients of which you may not be taking full advantage. As more data is collected, it’s important to keep it organized so that you can use it effectively to gain insights and help your clients. Data architecture is a set of models, policies, rules or standards that govern which data is collected, and how it is stored, arranged, integrated, and put to use in data systems and in organizations. If you’re not already thinking about this, it might be a good idea to consult with a developer to get help. 

4. Recognize WHERE the customer is today and plan for tomorrow. 

What’s the consumer appetite for these types of technologies? This year, 56.3 million personal digital assistants will ship to homes, including Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s new Home Pod. That’s a 40% increase from the impressive growth of 33 million sold in 2017. Consumers are quickly changing where they shop, organize and get information. It’s important that we move quickly to offer the experience customers want and need. 

At first, I was happy to ask my Alexa to play music and set timers, now it’s the hub for my home. Alexa shops for my groceries, provides news stories, organizes my day, and much more. Plus, the cat really appreciates when Alexa feeds her – I’m totally serious that my cat feeder is hooked up to Alexa who releases a ration of kibble at pre-set feeding times. 

There are so many applications for healthcare. Here’s a few that are happening or just around the corner…

“Alexa, what’s left on my health plan deductible?” 

“Alexa, find a provider in my network within 5 miles.” 

“Alexa, search for Protonix pricing at my local pharmacies.” 

“Alexa, how do I know if I have an ear infection?” 

“Alexa, what’s the difference between an HSA, FSA and HRA?” 

“Alexa, find a 5-star rated health insurance broker within 20 miles.”

Click here for a great article about the growth and applications of digital personal assistants.

4.5 The customer experience must be TRULY helpful 

Making “cool” innovations in Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning won’t work if not coupled with a relentless pursuit to serve the customer. These endeavors are expensive, so spend your IT budget wisely, ensuring new innovation creates true value and is easy for the end user. 

Are you ready to learn more? Reid Rasmussen, Co-Founder & CEO of freshbenies, and I will be doing a breakout session at BenefitsPro on 4/18 at 2:30pm.

Alexa the Broker: How Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Benefits Business

Machine learning and big data are drastically advancing what we know about maximizing results in medicine. And it’s already advancing sales insights and service techniques. This will dramatically change the way we work in the next few years. We’ll discuss various categories of innovations in healthcare delivery, as well as benefits servicing. Are you terrified of more changes, or are you prepared for the coming opportunities?

Now it's your turn! How do you see these new technologies impacting the healthcare industry? Comment below or email me at

Tonia Degner

Tonia has been a leader in the retail and tech industries for 20+ years with a focus on driving vision and growth strategies in large volume business sectors. Her most recent experience includes Director positions at Amazon where she implemented complex company-wide enhancements, led the launch of innovative products, and created disruptive strategies. She joined freshbenies as Chief Strategy Officer because of her passion to provide practical tools that simplify the American healthcare experience.

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Tanya Boyd
Tanya Boyd
President of Tanya Boyd & Associates

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