Artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to reveal its potential to revolutionise workplace health, but do not be afraid, hears Richard Browne.
AI and other similar new technologies are already starting to fulfil their potential to support workplace health.
But, while there may be hesitation from some in the sector to move too far, too fast, there is general recognition that AI should be a force for good in the medical world, the Health & Protection roundtable in association with HelloSelf heard.
The panel revealed there were already promising clinical outcomes from enabling new technologies and that optimism from employers, employees, insurers and other service providers was showing through.
Overall, attendees were in general agreement that AI was a very positive development for the industry, with it representing a “tremendous opportunity”, according to Legal & General chief medical officer Dr Tarun Gupta.
He pointed out the technology’s ability to collect data, assist early intervention and show how chronic conditions affect people in the workplace.
“When you look at it with a standard lens, you’ve got early detection and very early prevention intervention – there’s so many places where AI has great potential to be of benefit,” he said.
“Then you’ve got the data which you can use to inform decision making and policies from a commercial perspective.
“So it’s going to almost get to the point in 10 years where you will wonder how you did without it.”
Same journey as virtual GPs
Although there may be some issues with people accepting the technology – at least to begin with – it is likely to be embraced once more familiar.
Medicash sales and marketing director Paul Gambon noted that many people had difficulty accepting virtual GPs at first, but have now come around, particularly post-pandemic.
“People are happy now to take that approach” he said.
“AI is the same. It’s going on the same sort of journey, that it’s scary – robots are going to take over the world kind of problems – to now realising where it fits within the services we are able to offer.”
But AI does not only need to be used for medical issues as it can also be used in a business perspective with things like claim submissions, Gambon continued.
“When someone submits a claim, AI is already reading that claim, making sure it’s verified and searching the information and making sure it’s valid,” he said.
“That does more to improve the customer journey,” he said, “and as time progresses it can be used in multiple facets across businesses and will become more and more normalised as time goes on. It won’t be as scary.
“It will just follow the very same sort of journey as the virtual GP,” Gambon predicted.
Making doctors better
But AI is already having a more direct impact on the health sector and in diagnosis especially.
“Looking at X-rays or scans and determining what’s going on with that scan – image processing is here and now,” said Aviva UK Health medical director Dr Doug Wright.
“It gives us new techniques to gain better insight from data we already have, that we might not be able to analyse in the right way.
“And that’s very relevant when we’re talking about these sorts of services and how they work for an employer and how they can deliver outcomes.”
Beyond that, the panel heard how the technology can also help some professionals to work better.
“As a clinician, as a practicing psychologist, I’m quite excited about what AI can do to make me better at what I do,” said HelloSelf chief clinical officer Rumina Taylor (pictured).
“It’s being a co-pilot. Do I think it’s going to replace me at delivering therapy for someone? Maybe not, but it could be my co-pilot for a lot of my journey,” she said.
This was supported by HelloSelf chief innovation officer Dr. Annemarie O’Connor, who agreed it could develop professionals into becoming better at their job.
“AI can be used as a tool for our therapists to make them better therapists,” she said.
“We need to make it accessible to everybody. We need to make it personal to everybody.”
Right process, right technology
However, there are some risks to consider and it may not necessarily be all smooth sailing as some were sceptical about the overuse of AI.
Benenden Health head of innovation David Winter warned there was a bit of an indulgent vanity in the way people continued talking about blockchain and other technologies.
And he added for healthcare especially there was “very much an interest in seeing or having the results validated by a real experienced clinician.”
“It’s about the right use at the right time, as part of the right process, with the right technology,” he explained.
Cautious optimism and an open mind
Along with cautious optimism a level of open-mindedness must be kept when considering the role of AI in the workplace health and protection market, the panel noted.
“We must keep an open mind, we must not go too quickly,” said Dan Crook, protection sales director at Canada Life.
“I’m buoyed to hear the clinicians saying how they’re excited about how it can help, but I do think we need to have a little bit of caution.
“Just make sure that we’re not opening-up to risks that we can’t mitigate at this point, I think that’s what everyone is agreeing with over the long term.
“We all have no doubt that AI will be here and it will help us, but ultimately this will all be judged by outcomes,” he added.
WTW senior associate for health and risk Sacha Lowe agreed, adding: “AI is kind of like virtual reality: sometimes necessary, sometimes not very necessary.
“So you’ve just got to do it on a case by case basis from that perspective.”
However, the proliferation of apps and ensuring members use the right one was another concern noted.
And there is a danger that people may rely so much on AI that they forget about the human element.
Will not replace a person
“AI is a buzzword and everybody feels that they’ve got to use it in some form or another,” said Sharon Shier, head of product development at WPA.
“But it’s about making it relevant and making sure it is supportive – because there’s a person at the end of that,” she said.
“We have to remember that there is still a human there that needs help, and technology is not always going to be about fixing that.
“So our concern in some of the conversations that we’ve been having is that this is not to replace a manager.
“Your manager still needs to understand their people and therefore help them to find the right pathway and signpost them – not rely on technology.”
But AI might be better at prevention than managing the critical stage.
“It comes back to prevention, because I think AI would work much better if you get it into the prevention stage rather than the critical treatment stage,” she concluded.