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July 15, 2020

The Emergence of AI Technology During COVID-19

Most of us can agree that when the clock struck midnight at the start of 2020, we were envisioning a year that looks completely different from the one we’ve dealt with so far. These last few months have no doubt been challenging for us all, and many employees are likely experiencing added levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Amid the constant observances of social distancing and disruption in existing health care services, many of us are looking for on-demand solutions that are convenient and free from additional restrictions.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its head, one of the biggest mental health issues affecting America’s workforce was depression. In fact, untreated clinical depression has become one of the costliest illnesses in the United States. One in five adults in the U.S. suffer from mental health challenges each year, costing employers a staggering 200 million lost workdays and up to $44 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, consider these other statistics from the CDC:

•   Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.

•   Short-term disability claims for mental illness have been growing by 10% each year.

•   Employees with depression who are not receiving treatment use two to four times more health care resources.

•   Employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the three years after an initial health risk assessment, even greater than other health risks, such as smoking and obesity.

Although COVID-19 has been completely devastating on a global scale, it has also presented a number of opportunities in the health care industry, one of which is the advancement of artificial intelligence technology. Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT), in partnership with Pinnacle Health Management (PHM), has taken full advantage of these emerging capabilities and has recently made a new resource available for its members.

HEIDI, short for Health Evaluation Interactive Discovery Intelligence, is a text-based, artificial intelligence chatbot that provides on-demand expertise to help employees and their dependents manage stress levels and maintain mental balance.

HEIDI is free and available on-demand 24/7 for all members with a WGAT health plan. HEIDI is also secure and confidential, just like conversations with a health care professional, and meets Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements to protect employee privacy. We’ve made this tool available in English as well as Spanish.

Artificial intelligence chatbots can play a vital role in helping people with their mental health, according to a new study from the University of Sheffield. We’re now living in a world where physical and social distancing have become the new norm, and face-to-face interactions with health care professionals have presented new barriers for patients seeking additional care. The university study highlights the fact that chatbots have been effective therapeutic options for those looking to talk through their issues.

Like other artificial intelligence chatbots, HEIDI is by no means a replacement for real psychiatrists or mental health counselors, but she is trained by expert psychologists to ensure interactions are high quality. The tool uses self-learning artificial intelligence, which means the more you chat with HEIDI, the more she learns how to provide better support. HEIDI is also trained to recognize certain words and phrases that indicate strong emotions that could lead to suicide or self-harm and will recommend a crisis line for individuals that need to call for help when they need it.

WGAT and Pinnacle Health Management

WGAT partners with Pinnacle Health Management to offer a care management program at no cost to employees diagnosed with a range of chronic care conditions. We recently added depression to our main core of care management programs, alongside other chronic conditions, which include hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, weight management, and asthma. This program is included with every WGAT health plan purchased. Additionally, employers can obtain our Wellness Program as an add-on, which includes quarterly wellness challenges, wellness toolkits and other educational resources, newsletters on popular health topics, and customized reports at the end of all wellness challenges.

Remember that if you have the WGAT plan, your Western Growers Insurance Services account manager can assist you as needed. If you don’t have the WGAT plan but want more information or are interested in purchasing the plan, contact a WGAT sales representative at (800) 333-4WGA.

(Dr. Jennifer Moore oversees all aspects of Pinnacle Health Management, which includes the care management program, corporate wellness program, utilization review, and provider contracting, and also oversees a team of caring and dedicated nurses and administrative staff.)