Will 2019 Be Work Comp’s “Year of the Robot”?

From robot dogs, to robot caregivers—and white-collar “robots” that automate mundane or rote tasks— it seems robots and robotic processes are suddenly everywhere.  Tech forecaster Gartner predicts that 60% of companies with an income of more than $1 billion will have deployed RPA instruments before 2018 is over.  A Forrester Research estimate said 2018 will see digital workers–i.e., RPA robots–replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions.

Though it may come as a bit of surprise, Workers Compensation has emerged as a place where all kinds of robots have or will soon make an impact.

Processing Claims

For example, digital worker robots have already improved processes and reduced potential flashpoints for adjusters on the workers compensation frontlines.  As those in workers compensation know, certain events tend to give rise to disputes that cause injured workers to seek outside representation. Service of MMI or request to attend an IME will always generate the possibility of disagreement. But late benefit and medical payments caused by clerical error or misfiling are every adjuster’s headache—especially because they often come with an assessment of attorney’s fees for the other side when bills don’t get paid on time.

But across the industry, worker comp insurers have begun to adopt RPA-based solutions to improve troublesome or tedious processes. For example, Texas Mutual, a worker’s compensation insurer in Texas, has found a solution that uses RPA and other technologies to solve those kinds of problems when it comes to processing of medical claims forms.  The solution allows for more “touchless” claim processing and has pre-established workflows for many of the common kinds of exceptions that do occur. As a result, Texas Mutual has seen a significant decrease in problems caused by late payments or easily addressable mistakes.

And adjusters don’t need to worry that RPA and process automation solutions threaten their jobs. Instead,  Risk and Insurance Magazine reports that these technologies will let adjusters overburdened by bureaucratic procedures free up time to talk to injured worker, exercise creativity, and generate solutions for the challenges holding up a worker’s recovery. Letting robots handles mundane tasks could also make the adjusters’ job more enjoyable and reverse the high rate of adjuster attrition plaguing insurance organizations.

Preventing Claims

Robots of the more traditional type will continue to have an expanding role in work comp as well.  In fact, workforce robots will help reduce injuries and maybe even those who have been hurt back to work more quickly. So-called collaborative robots can handle the portion of a task whose ergonomics create a risk of injury. Some estimates suggest that use of these kind of robots could reduce up to 35% of lost work days due to workplace injuries. Similarly, Health and Safety Magazine reports that robotic exoskeletons—think Ripley in the movie Alien—have already helped early adopters in  labor-intensive fields such as aerospace, automotive manufacturing, construction, warehousing, and oil and gas work towards lessening repetitive task injuries. Moving forward, exoskeleton innovations using robotic technologies that work in tandem with a user to amplify, reinforce or restore human performance may be a way to get those with injuries back to work more quickly.

Still, the increased use of robotics is not without problems in the workers compensation arena. As more robots are used on the factory floor, adjusters will likely see an increase of injuries caused by those robots whether through unintentional operation during repair, emerging best practice standards and plain old human error—something the plaintiffs bar is also starting to notice.

Bottom Line

Workers compensation will serve as the proving ground for many of these technologies—and 2019 will likely be a year when many of those tests take place. So stay tuned to see what lessons work comp learns by, about, and from robots in the coming year.