Optum’s Case Advisor platform uses natural language processing and machine learning to analyze complex medical records, allowing physicians to spend less time poring over charts and more time treating patients. Its pharmacy services business uses analytics to detect fraud and prevent abuse of pharmacy benefits. An Optum analytics platform helps caregivers understand patient populations better and intervene earlier, altering behavior that could lead to chronic conditions or costly visits to the emergency room.
“AI is incredibly important to the future of healthcare,” says Sanji Fernando, Optum’s senior vice president for AI and analytics platforms. “By leveraging the benefits of machine learning and AI, we can improve efficiency, lower costs, and create new products and services.”
It’s also been very good for Optum’s bottom line. The division recorded revenues of $136 billion in 2020—more than half of UHG’s annual total—for a year-over-year growth rate of 21%.
Optum’s success is one of the examples cited in a 2020 study, “Artificial Intelligence, Firm Growth, and Industry Concentration,” that arrives at a striking conclusion: Instead of eliminating employees through automation, companies that invest the most in AI products and services are growing faster, expanding further into new markets, and hiring more people than companies that haven’t.
Other recent studies also point to the positive effects of widespread AI adoption. That’s somewhat of a surprise, given that economists have been divided for years about how AI would impact hiring, productivity, and other economic benchmarks.
For the most advanced firms, researchers found, investments in AI result not in fewer jobs but in job growth. Major U.S. metro areas where AI is a significant driver of the local economy are not only growing faster, they are seeing a rise in overall well-being, according to another recent study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.
And as Optum shows, AI is transforming health care in important ways; AI investments in drug discovery have increased fourfold over the past year, according to the 2021 AI Index published in March 2021 by Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).
“AI has huge potential to help people, especially with healthcare,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, director of Stanford’s Digital Economy Lab and a senior fellow at HAI. “This is a great example of how technology can help us live longer, healthier lives.”