Artificial Intelligence (AI) Makes Healthcare Finance More Human

Page 8

Summer 2 0 1 9

Artificial Intelligence Makes Healthcare Finance More Human by Jane C. Kaye, MBA Jane C. Kaye

We’re seeing it everywhere. It’s Siri, it’s Alexa, it’s Google. It can suggest email responses, predict your Netflix preferences, understand your online shopping behavior. It’s the promise of a future where the cars drive themselves and the robots do the thinking. It’s all Artificial Intelligence. And it’s less dystopian than it sounds. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is broadly defined as the development of computer systems able to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence. Applied to business, AI allows organizations to automate repetitive processes through learning -- and it’s changing the type of work employees expect and the pace in which it gets done. The healthcare industry is no exception. But while the clinical side is seeing a boom in flashy AI technology, from surgical robots to automated diagnosing, the backend financial operations have been slower to adopt. So what would an AI-optimized healthcare financial system look like? When we think about how it affects the rest of our lives -- saving time and increasing efficiency -- we can begin to understand how it applies to healthcare business operations. By simplifying and streamlining repetitive tasks, AI technologies have the potential to make our work in healthcare finance more human, creating space for critical thinking, opening up new career pathways, allowing employees control of the process, and potentially even contributing to lower healthcare costs. Applying AI to Healthcare Finance Most of the immediate and relevant applications of AI in healthcare finance center on streamlining data gathering through robotic process automation (RPA), which uses software robots to automate business processes. These “bots” are configurable software that perform tasks of which an employee can assign and control, interacting with multiple programs as a human employee would. Within healthcare finance, these bots typically apply to repetitive tasks like pulling billing data from disparate sources into one place, or performing time- and labor-intensive monthly account reconciliations. Brian Huggins, Corporate Controller at Partners Health-

6 F o c u s

Care, has been working to implement these sorts of efficiencies across his organization’s accounting operations. A system incorporating Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, McLean Hospital and many other healthcare entities across the Boston area and beyond, Partners continues to merge and expand, increasingly demanding an efficient financial operation for strategic growth. “At Partners, the foundation for any of our automation starts with process improvement,” Brian says. And from Brian’s experience, one of the biggest areas benefiting from process improvement is the account reconciliation part of the monthly financial statement close. In the traditional closing process, accountants focus on reconciling transactions -- a repetitive task with little added value. RPA tools enable employees to write a command that quickly reconciles transactions and highlights errors or mismatches, thereby freeing time to thoughtful analysis focused on understanding, correcting and preventing these mismatches. In this way, the RPA system allows people within the finance function to take on a whole new capacity, increasing analytical thinking while also increasing the accuracy of the information analyzed. “No matter how proficient machines become in automating transactional accounting tasks, they can’t analyze the data,” echoes Vin Messina, Strategic Account Manager at BlackLine, a software company supplying cloud-based financial automation solutions. “You need people to do that.” Vin has worked across many different industries making the transition to AI-enabled period-end financial close, and has noticed that healthcare financial operations are slower to adapt. Yet with the mergers and growth we’re seeing across the hospital industry -- and as Brian is experiencing firsthand at Partners -- streamlining financial processes and creating efficiencies in the workforce are more important now than ever. “The benefits go beyond process optimization, improved accuracy and increased efficiency,” Vin says. “Automation software enables the deployment of finance personnel to take on more involvement in higher value-add activities – and become