automated processes

States see potential in intelligent automation, blockchain

Amid shrinking budgets and rising demands, state health and human services agencies are looking to new technologies that can help them enhance services, improve data quality and boost efficiency.

HHS officials in Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee discussed their first steps in incorporating intelligent automation and blockchain into their operations in a Nov. 29 webinar sponsored by the American Public Health Services Association and KPMG.

Both the Georgia Department of Human Services and Tennessee Division of Health Care Finance & Administration are running pilots to see how intelligent automation can help their IT staff with password-reset requests.

“There was a time when 24 percent of our call center calls were for password reset so it was an easy use case for intelligent automation,” Georgia DHS CIO Venkat Krishnan said.  “We are starting to talk with vendors about ways to implement chatbots" since they are one of the easier intelligent automation applications to deploy.

Krishnan was also involved in the Digital Services Georgia recent effort to create an Alexa skill for finding government information. Chatbots could incorporate the Alexa skill the state is already using to provide storm updates during the hurricane season, he suggested. 

Tennessee HCFA CIO Hugh Hale formed an innovation committee consisting of 15 leaders from the state’s Medicaid program and managed care organizations to investigate emerging technologies.

“On the intelligent automation side, we are now going through a large implementation of a new eligibility system, and we are looking at ways that intelligent automation can supplement and support its implementation,” Hale said.

“We are looking into potential supplemental training tools for new call center agents and looking into voice analytics capabilities,” Hale said.  “We have a small fee-for-service area for crossover claims, and we are looking at a fraud and abuse application that has intelligent automation as well.”

“We are further along with the intelligent automation because of the low number of real-world applications that exist in blockchain today,” he added. 

Hale said he sees possibilities in using blockchain for Tennessee’s health information exchange program, but he noted that the infrastructure “isn’t there yet,” so he is monitoring companies in the early stages of development. He also sees opportunities for intelligent automation help with HCFA’s back-office functions and training.

Gregory Jackson, CIO of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said he sees the potential for blockchain to be used for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program’s electronic benefit transfer system. 

“We are looking into a private blockchain that will help us to detect fraud in the system and control access,” Jackson said. 

A recent KPMG/Governing Institute study on intelligent automation and blockchain in health and human services agencies suggested the technologies can be used augment call center capacity to reduce wait times, speed eligibility validation and automate time-consuming manual processes.

Blockchain could be used to improve identity management and transparency and uncover fraud.

In the KPMG study, Jackson said he was interested in whether blockchain could be used to authorize SNAP transactions, which would root out fraud and help demonstrate the program's integrity to regulators.

Krishnan said he wanted to know if blockchain could provide a master identity that verifies individuals across HHS departments and programs.  With a single, verified identity, the state could better coordinate services and analyze costs. Such an identity could also allow the state to develop a holistic record of benefits-fraud suspects that could be securely shared across the agencies.

Blockchain could also enforce privacy and security requirements associated with shared health care data because it would provide an audit trail for data as it is shared among practitioners, insurance companies, government agencies and individuals.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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