5 Ways Robots Reshape (and Improve) Workers’ Comp

Robots in workers' comp will enhance providers' ability to deliver high-quality care to injured workers and can help payers control pharmacy-related costs.
By: | November 7, 2018 • 6 min read

Robotic pharmacies are virtually eliminating costs related to medication dispensing errors. Image: Susan Merrell/UCSF


Robots have been in the workplace since 1956, but it’s stunning how the machines have evolved since then. Robots and cobots in the workplace are boosting productivity as well as safety in a broad range of workplace environments. They’re also poised to have an impact on the workers’ comp field in a variety of ways. In the not-so-distant future, robots may impact your safety and workers’ comp programs in ways we couldn’t have imagined even 10 years ago.

1) Helping injured workers heal

A prototype robot for sports therapy has been developed in Singapore, aimed at providing a high quality, repeatable treatment routine to improve sports recovery.

The robot, named Emma — Expert Manipulative Massage Automation — treated 50 patients in early trials, including professional athletes with conditions including tennis elbow, stiff neck and shoulders and lower back pain.

Emma applying therapeutic massage to a patient autonomously. Image: NTU Singapore

Emma uses sensors and diagnostic functions to measure the response of a patient and the stiffness of a particular muscle or tendon. The detailed diagnostics are analyzed and uploaded to the cloud so that treatment and recovery can be measured and monitored by physicians and therapists. Treatment programs can be adjusted based on recovery progress.

Emma is undergoing user trials at Kin Teck Tong, a medical institution with a chain of clinics that offer sports injury rehabilitation and pain management through the integration of advanced sports science and traditional Chinese medicine.

Emma’s success has the potential to open a broad range of opportunities across the injury rehab and pain management industries.

Meanwhile in Poland, a robot named Luna is helping to enhance physical therapy for injured patients as they work to regain muscle strength. Luna uses electromyography, or EMG, to identify electrical currents as patients bend their arms or legs.

By detecting muscle tension not immediately visible to the human eye, Luna can help therapists choose the best exercises for patients, as well as provide them with real-time information about patient progress.

2) Enabling advanced solutions for traumatic injuries

Robotic exoskeletons are achieving great things for paraplegic patients with permanent injuries. But they are also becoming a vital piece of the recovery strategy for spinal injury patients that have the potential to walk again.

Technology like the Swiss-developed RYSEN harness can adapt as the injured worker recovers. The harness is attached to the ceiling, and uses a deep neural network algorithm that can “learn” where a particular patient needs the most support. This enables injured workers to regain their gait and balance at the right pace as their bodies heal.

Traditional rehab harnesses pull upward, making the patient shift their body weight backward — an unnatural condition for walking. RYSEN uses a computational model that can simulate normal walking by predicting the right configuration of forces to be applied to the patient’s trunk.

The harness learns how a person moves and where they tend to shift their weight and adjusts accordingly. It can also be used to move in multiple dimensions rather than simply forward, which lets patients practice a variety of movements such as moving between obstacles.

3) Packaging prescriptions for injured workers

Dispensing medication is a task well suited to machines. A robotic system receives a script from the physicians or the pharmacist, the robot picks the correct dose and quantity, packages it up and hands it over to an individual.


Some human pharmacists may be wary of the technology, but employers and payers have cause to embrace it. A 2012 study done at a Houston hospital found that for every 100,000 prescriptions, pharmacists made an average of five errors. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported to the Washington Post that as many as 5 percent of the 5 billion prescriptions filled each year are incorrect.

The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Identifying and Preventing Medication Errors estimate that there are at least 1.5 million preventable adverse drug effects in the United States each year.

Robotic pharmacy systems are consistently bringing those figures close to zero around the globe.

UC San Francisco’s medical center and other hospitals have sustained long-term error-free dispensing with pharmacy automation systems. Image: Cornerstone Automation Systems

Nearly 70 percent of community pharmacies in Denmark use automated or robotic dispensing technology. The UK’s Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust reported a 50 percent reduction of dispensing errors in the four months after implementing a pharmacy robot.

In the U.S., the medical center at the University of California San Francisco is operating a proof-of-concept pharmacy at two hospitals, and the project has been working — 100 percent error free — for more than five years.

Pharmacy automation systems are increasingly being installed by various end-users such as hospital pharmacies, clinic pharmacies, retail pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies and pharmaceutical SMEs.

According to a recent Future Market Insights report, the global pharmacy automation systems market was valued at $3.3 billion in 2016 and is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent from 2017 to 2027.

4) Adjusting injured workers’ claims

Well, no — robots can’t really replace adjusters. What they can do is take over the most clerical and transactional aspects of claims adjusting and allow human adjusters to focus on how they can add value to the claims experience from a claimant engagement standpoint.

Robotic process automation, or RPA, can enhance speed, accuracy, transparency and level of service … everything that matters most to injured workers.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported to the Washington Post that as many as 5 percent of the 5 billion prescriptions filled each year are incorrect.

Automation can ensure the right information ends up in the right systems and attached to the right claims, allowing human adjusters to act more efficiently. Automation is particularly effective for pulling data from standard fields on medical bills and for transferring and converting data across older claims systems into newer enterprise systems.

RPA can optimize claimant communication so that the right type of contact is made with the injured worker at the right time and through the right communication medium.

Robots can also quickly run quality assurance checks on entire populations of forms and payments to ensure accuracy. Anomalies and payment errors can potentially be flagged before the check ever goes out rather than being discovered by auditors after the fact.

As more carriers adopt mobile applications to streamline the claimant experience, these functions can be integrated with robotic process automation. Integrated chatbots can handle many routine communications tasks, including notifications of settlements and customer inquiries into claim status and payment status.

5) Freeing up lawyers to better leverage their expertise

In complex cases, it can take a large team of lawyers and paralegals to pore over every document related to the discovery process. However, that’s a task that can be accomplished via artificial intelligence at a fraction of the speed and cost it would take otherwise.


Machine learning is the foundation of the predictive coding technology that has transformed eDiscovery, reducing the amount of data that need to be reviewed by upwards of 80 percent in some matters.

eDiscovery platforms are now using AI to substantially improve the discovery process. Discovery-related AIs find important documents, facts and issues with minimal effort at lightning speed. Lawyers and legal teams are able to identify key documents quickly and benefit from an automated recommendation engine without the need to be experts in advanced analytics.

In this case, it’s not about replacing humans with robots. It’s about to taking a job that’s potentially tedious, headache-inducing and at risk for oversight errors and shifting it to machines that are better suited to scanning and sifting through terabytes of data. This frees up lawyers and paralegals to spend their billable hours on high-value tasks. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at mkerr@lrp.com


Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”


“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.


“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?


“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.