How Two Emerging Technologies May Disrupt HHS

New research explores practical applications for intelligent automation and blockchain.
KPMG | November 26, 2017
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State and local officials who run health and human services (HHS) programs are closely watching a pair of emerging technologies which may help them make faster and more accurate eligibility decisions and share sensitive information like patient medical records more securely.

Intelligent automation, a category of smart software that includes everything from automated business processes to artificial intelligence, and blockchain, the secure digital ledger technology, are the focus of intense development activity in the technology industry. They’re also drawing more interest from state and local HHS officials as they look for ways to tackle bigger workloads and improve services without adding staff.

KPMG LLP, an audit, tax and advisory firm, partnered with the Governing Institute to gauge interest in these emerging technologies and understand how they may apply to state and local HHS programs. A national survey gathered responses from 189 government executives, including 67 senior HHS officials. In addition, in-depth discussion workshops were held with HHS officials in three states — Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee – to understand potential benefits and challenges associated with intelligent automation and blockchain adoption.

The research indicates both technologies are at early stages of deployment in state and local HHS agencies. However, their use within HHS programs appears poised to expand.

Of the two technologies, intelligent automation has wider acceptance. About a quarter of the HHS respondents in the Governing Institute/KPMG survey said they use or plan to use intelligent automation technology. Most respondents who are planning these implementations expect to complete them within 12 to 24 months. Blockchain is much earlier in the adoption cycle, with the bulk of respondents saying they were unsure of both their interest level in the technology and their plans for deploying it. Yet, discussion sessions with HHS officials showed emerging interest in blockchain, particularly around managing and verifying the identity of benefit recipients and preventing fraud and abuse.

Practical Applications

Despite the newness of the technologies, HHS officials identified multiple potential uses for both intelligent automation and blockchain. Here are some examples:

  • Intelligent automation technology potentially could gather eligibility information faster, more accurately and with a complete audit trail. Eligibility professionals would then review the information and use their expertise and judgment to decide on the right course of action. HHS staff members currently spend hours collecting, aggregating and validating eligibility data from various sources.
  • Intelligent automation solutions that include natural language processing could quickly direct callers with eligibility questions to the appropriate experts, reducing phone time for citizens and HHS staff members. To a growing degree, the underlying technology in these systems may even sense the anger or frustration levels of callers and escalate them to a manager when appropriate.
  • Blockchain may help improve patient experience and health outcomes by enabling secure sharing of medical records and claims data among doctors, patients, hospitals, insurers and other healthcare stakeholders.
  • Blockchain also may help states and localities more accurately identify citizens who are eligible for government services, reducing fraud and misuse of benefit programs. For instance, HHS officials want to explore if blockchain can strengthen the integrity of electronic benefit card systems used to distribute Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. They also want to know if blockchain could tighten the management of payments to third-party contractors, such as daycare providers.

Potential Challenges

Despite growing interest, HHS agencies face a range of hurdles to adopting intelligent automation and blockchain. For intelligent automation, key challenges include funding to purchase and deploy the technology, security risks triggered by unexpected behavior of intelligent applications, and potential workforce disruption as manual tasks are automated. Blockchain barriers include a general lack of knowledge about the technology -- 40 percent of survey respondents admitted they’re not yet at the point of even knowing what the potential adoption barriers may be – and lack of mature blockchain solutions or services from vendors.

Wider adoption of both technologies also will hinge on deeper discussions between agency leaders and IT officials about where these solutions could provide value.

For a deeper look at the research results and more insight into how IA and blockchain will impact state and local health and human services programs, download the complete KPMG/Governing Institute research strategy paper.