Opinion | Meet Your New Workers’ Comp Coworker: A White-Collar Robot

By: | November 9, 2018 • 2 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

A new breed of white-collar robots is marching into the workers’ compensation world.

Expect them to arrive with endearing names, like “Rosie the Robot,” named after the Jetsons’ housekeeper in the 1960s cartoon.

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We mostly think of robots invading blue-collar workspaces, taking over manufacturing shop floors and replacing employees conducting physical tasks.

But transactions requiring a large volume of repetitive, mundane clerical procedures — like activities necessary to administer workers’ comp claims or issue insurance policies — are ripe for robotic process automation, known as RPA.

Although relatively new, RPA is already moving into workers’ comp. No doubt you will hear more promises about how it will improve life for claims payers and injured workers.

Relax though, proponents argue that RPA won’t replace workers’ comp jobs any time soon. It’s more assistive technology expected to free up time for adjusters and others responsible for insurance processes to exercise creativity.

Think of today’s adjuster, overburdened with bureaucratic procedures. Post-RPA, they could enjoy more time actually talking to injured workers and generating solutions for the challenges holding up a worker’s recovery.

Removing mundane tasks could improve the job enough to reverse the high rate of adjuster attrition plaguing insurance organizations, said Jeff White, senior VP and product manager, workers’ compensation, at Gallagher Bassett. White is known for studying technology-driven change and will speak on Insurtech, artificial intelligence and new technologies impacting claims management during the upcoming National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas.

He recently hosted an RPA symposium, drawing participants from finance, health care and insurance.

White was surprised to learn how far along those companies are in applying RPA. Some are already asking their service vendors to improve their websites to make them friendlier for customers’ robots to access.

These are not robots in the mechanical form one tends to think of; just software really.

Workers’ comp insurer AF Group is an early RPA adopter. Its robot wakes up a computer, logs onto regulator websites and searches for documents that must be included with insurance policies. It downloads the forms into a network folder where a human can access them to include with the policy, said Craig Bilinksi, AF Group manager of innovation.

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I expect you will hear more about RPA bots, because third party administrator Helmsman Management Services recently announced its using them to intake and assign workers’ comp claims, even those arriving during non-business hours.

Helmsman says that will speed up its claims processing. That makes its RPA use a competitive differentiator, at least for now. Helmsman is a unit of Liberty Mutual, which was also the insurer I first heard of employing predictive modeling for claims management. That was years ago and eventually everyone managing workers’ comp claims bragged they, too, had predictive capabilities — although they were not all created equal.

I also expect competitors will eventually want to brag about their adoption of RPA bots as well. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]