At CES, Humana offers a glimpse inside its new digital tech hub 'Studio H'

Exhibitors present the next wave of hardware and software solutions in AI & Robotics at CES 2020. Leading Humana's new technology hub, Studio H, Heather Cox and her digital analytics team are focused on how to leverage augmented intelligence, voice recognition tools, virtual care, remote monitoring and other technology solutions to improve members' digital experience. (CES)

LAS VEGASA few years ago, it might have been surprising to see a health insurance giant at a tech show like CES.

But as insurance companies ramp up their focus on artificial intelligence and data analytics, they are taking a hard look at the latest digital tools from wearable sensors to health trackers, virtual reality solutions and devices.

"Every company thinks they are turning into a health and wellness company, and that's going to be interesting to watch," Heather Cox, Humana's chief digital health and analytics officer, told FierceHealthcare.

Care.Coach avatar (Care.Coach)

Leading Humana's new technology hub, Studio H, Cox and her digital analytics team are focused on how to leverage augmented intelligence, voice recognition tools, virtual care, remote monitoring and other technology solutions to improve members' digital experience.

RELATED: Humana, Doctor on Demand launch virtual primary care health plan

"Healthcare isn't really setting the bar for digital experiences today," Cox said. By looking at the digital experiences consumers have in other industries, Humana's digital health and analytics unit is focused on creating digital healthcare services on par with the apps people use every day, she said. 

As one example, Humana is working with software company Care.Coach to test the use of an AI-driven animal avatar called Buddy to help engage high-risk patients. The avatar technology, offered on a tablet, enables 24/7 care management for members with chronic conditions.

"About 40% of the time it's completely automated with AI, and about 60% of the time it's a human that's engaging with the member through the avatar. It’s a combination of person and technology," Cox said.

Members who use the technology engage up to 30 minutes a day talking to Buddy, she said. "The relationship they start to build with this digital tool is really powerful."

How Studio H works

In August 2018, Humana expanded its health IT footprint with the opening of Studio H, a dedicated new center for digital analytics in the Seaport neighborhood of Boston. And the insurance giant tapped Cox, a technology leader in the financial services space, to lead the venture. She joined Humana from USAA, where she served as chief technology officer for 25 years. Before that, she was CEO of Citi FinTech at Citigroup and head of card operations at Capital One.

Studio H operates more like a technology company with digital health and analytics teams sitting side by side with human-centered design experts and product managers, according to Cox. 

"Studio H is meant to be the next evolution of Humana with a focus on leveraging analytics to drive great new digital personalized experiences to extend care delivery to members when and how they need it," she said.

"Differentiating on price isn't going to be the way to win in healthcare; differentiating on experience will be," she said.

For the past year and a half, Cox and her team have focused on building out several technology platforms for population health, digital health and machine learning to provide better services to members, providers and care teams. Those "foundational" platforms are designed to be able to integrate, via application programming interfaces, digital products and services from other technology companies, she said.

RELATED: Humana's chief strategy officer: Insurance giant is shifting to be a healthcare company

As part of these efforts, Humana launched an analytics product for its own clinics to help providers more effectively manage workflow and close care gaps. The insurance giant also rolled out a new app during annual open enrollment that enables members to integrate Medicare data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Blue Button 2.0 initiative. That app also leverages machine learning to recommend a health plan for members, she said.

Humana is primarily a Medicare Advantage (MA) company, Cox said, and as MA members become more tech-savvy the insurance company is building tools to meet their needs in areas like telehealth and remote monitoring.

Cox also teased a new digital product that Humana plans to launch at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando in March.

"There is the potential to innovate at scale leveraging data and we hope to have a product to show on the innovation front," she noted.

Building a longitudinal health record

Cox said her background in financial services translates well to healthcare as Humana focuses on how to use technology, data and analytics to make people's lives easier and remove friction in the healthcare experience.

"The challenge is with all these new gadgets, gizmos, and services, they get fragmented and you have to find the opportunity to start integrating these different points," she said.

Healthcare data remain siloed, and the lack of data flow across the healthcare industry is a key obstacle that needs to be solved, she said. Humana wants to leverage its data and digital capabilities to help tackle that issue.

"I think our opportunity is to become that truly longitudinal health record for people with our data and also with other sources of data," Cox said, noting that Humana is focused on "stitching together" disparate health information to help create insights for members.

"We want to get to a place where data and interoperability are a standard in this industry," she said.

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