Top health industry issues of 2018

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Meet your new coworker, artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) already is disrupting transportation, marketing and financial services, among other sectors. In health, this technology is gaining momentum and has the potential to significantly alter the industry, from the exam room to the back office to the supply chain.

In fact, healthcare’s back offices and supply chains are where AI is gaining traction now, generating quiet efficiencies that don’t garner the same headlines as visions of virtual physicians and robotic nurses but have profound potential to disrupt the industry.

Health businesses are using AI to automate decision-making, create financial and tax reporting efficiencies, automate parts of their supply chains, or streamline regulatory compliance functions. Tax functions in particular stand to benefit from artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) to simplify and automate processes once done exclusively by humans, such as interpreting, deciding, acting and learning.

For example, companies can use AI/RPA to determine an entity’s tax filing status, analyze the potential tax impacts of changes to accounts, help prepare and review tax returns, calculate tax rates, identify items that could be fraudulent or trigger an audit, and help respond to an audit if it does occur.1 Some processes may be more easily automated than others, but even partial automation can help employees make better use of their time and expertise.

Repetitive tasks in particular may benefit from the introduction of AI and machine learning to replace or supplement human interaction. AI doesn’t forget, tire, get bored with tasks or develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Healthcare providers can leverage AI tools to help their staff analyze routine pathology or radiology results more quickly and accurately, allowing them to see more patients and realize greater revenues.2 Companies such as Boston-based Cogito Corp. are using AI to help health insurers better understand and respond to customers who contact their call centers, making those businesses more effective and efficient. A pharmaceutical company could use AI to automate the intake, analysis, follow-up and reporting of adverse event reports associated with their drugs.

Medical product development also can benefit from AI. The R&D process for new drugs is exceedingly slow and expensive, with some products taking more than a decade to obtain FDA approval after being discovered and costing $1 billion to develop. And that’s if a company gets approval. Several companies are trying to turn this paradigm on its head, using AI tools to better identify which compounds are likely to succeed based on early-stage clinical data.

“We identify drugs that are stuck in the pharma traffic jam,” said Dan Rothman, chief information officer at Roivant Sciences, a Basel, Switzerland-based global pharmaceutical company using AI to assess drug candidates abandoned by other companies and bring them to market. “AI gives us a higher probability of obtaining success, even if we have some failures. It gives us more ‘at bats.’ There’s a lot of value to be found in making the drug development process more efficient.” Roivant isn’t alone. Other companies, such as UK-based Exscientia, are using their AI drug discovery platforms to partner with major pharmaceutical companies like GSK and Sanofi to target specific disease areas (see Figure).3


Use AI to augment and supplement your workforce

Employees function best when they’re able to practice at the top of their license or abilities. If AI tools help with or handle repetitive tasks, employees can focus on more important tasks, working smarter instead of harder. Business executives told PwC they hope to be able to automate tasks such as routine paperwork (82 percent of respondents), scheduling (79 percent), time sheet entry (78 percent) and accounting (69 percent) with AI-enabled tools.[4] These investments are already underway. Thirty-nine percent of provider executives told PwC they were investing in artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics.[5]

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Data are crucial to AI success

An AI tool is only as good as the data it uses for decision-making. Companies should invest in finding, acquiring and creating good data, standardizing it and checking it for errors. Companies should consider how their systems capture, collect, clean, integrate, enrich, store and analyze data. They should collect data in a way that allows it to be integrated with other relevant systems and in a way that allows questions to be answered.

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Partner to win

Although three-quarters of health executives plan to invest in AI in the next three years, many lack the ability to implement it.[6] Just 20 percent of respondents said they had the technology to succeed with AI. Companies should consider ways to acquire these capabilities, including partnering with technology firms or hiring the right expertise.[7]

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1 PwC, “Robotics Process Automation (RPA): Tax function of the future,” May 2017,

2 Andre Esteva, Brett Kuprel, Roberto A. Novoa, Justin Ko, Susan M. Swetter, Helen M. Blau and Sebastian Thrun, “Dermatologist-level classification of skin cancer with deep neural networks,” Nature, January 2017,

3 Exscientia, “Exscientia Enters Strategic Drug Discovery Collaboration With GSK,” July 2017,; PwC, “Bot.Me: A Revolutionary Partnership,” PwC Consumer Intelligence Series, April 2017,

4 PwC Health Research Institute, “Provider Executive Survey,” 2017

5 PwC, “2017 Global Digital IQ Survey,” 2017,

6 Anand Rao, “A Strategist’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence,” Strategy+Business, May 2017,

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Kelly Barnes

Global and US Health Industries Leader, PwC US

Benjamin Isgur

Health Research Institute Leader, PwC US

Gurpreet Singh

Health Services Leader, PwC US

Karen C. Young

US Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Leader, PwC US

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