We recently wrote a health insurance CIO’s guide to emerging technology that covered topics from chatbots and augmented reality to robotic process automation and the Internet of Things. But one emerging technology we failed to discuss was quantum computing. To rectify that, here’s a look at how to leverage quantum computing in health insurance.
What is Quantum Computing?
In the early 20th century, Einstein flipped classical physics on its head, first with his special theory of relatively and later with general relativity. At a very basic level, these theories led to the rise of quantum theory. That theory describes the nature of atoms and subatomic particles. Unlike the classic model of physics where objects exist in well-defined states, the quantum theory generally posits that objects only appear in a well-defined state after they’ve been observed.
Unlike a traditional computer that uses binary data – zeroes and ones — to define the state of information, a quantum computer stores information in a non-binary form called a qubit. This is an oversimplification of a complex topic, but that qubit reflects more than just a zero or a one. Because of “superposition”, that qubit can be in different states at the same time. Confused? Yes, it’s not the most straightforward topic.
What are the Benefits of Quantum Computing?
One application traditional computers struggle with is a calculation type called combinatorics. Combinatorics focus on optimizing items based on some goal. The more items there are, the more combinations exist and the longer such a calculation takes. For example, when I drive to work every day, I have any number of routes that may get me to work fastest based on current traffic conditions. Applications like Waze calculate which route would be best by calculating drive time for a multitude of routes.
Quantum computers, on the other hand, can perform combinatoric calculations much more quickly. In 2019, Google announced that they had used their quantum computer to solve a problem in just 200 seconds that would have taken their powerful supercomputer 10,000 years.
What Applications Exist for Quantum Computing in Health Insurance?
Because quantum computing excels at calculations that optimize large data sets, there are several potential applications for health insurers. Among them:
- Pricing — We recently reviewed 2022 individual health insurance premiums and insurers’ justifications for premium changes. So we know that many items and models go into determining premium rates. Whether it’s population health, disease risks, utilization, or provider pricing and utilization, the more data that’s included the better health insurers can set relevant pricing. Insurers can improve by developing more granular risk models that compute financials more efficiently.
- Diagnostics/member experience — The value-based payment revolution is based on the concept that health outcomes matter most. Quantum computing delivers the promise of more targeted treatments based on much more data. In theory, that helps improve health outcomes and ultimately reducing healthcare costs.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) — Previously, we examined some health insurance AI use cases, among them fraud detection when processing claims (more on that later), chatbots, and early intervention for health issues. But complex AI algorithms that rely on vast data sets can choke traditional computers. Quantum computers offer an opportunity to add more data to AI applications, ultimately improving those applications.
- Fraud detection — Healthcare fraud in the US healthcare system amounts to billions of dollars every year. By applying quantum computing to incorporate more data and improve pattern detection to flag potential fraud, insurers can trim the billions of dollars of fraud from healthcare costs.
What Quantum Computing Vendors Exist?
Many large organizations are developing quantum capabilities, include the aforementioned Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Honeywell. But other players in the space include:
- 1Qbit — Offers software and consulting services related to quantum computing.
- Rigetti Computing — Rigetti is one of the few relatively small companies building their own quantum computer. They also offer a full software stack for their hardware.
- Zapata Computing — Helps companies identify problems to pursue with quantum computers, then translate those problems to a quantum environment.
Anthem’s Use of Quantum Computing
Health insurer Anthem is one of the quantum computing early adopters. In 2020, they became the second founding member of the IBM Q Hub at NC State University. The hub delivers Anthem with one of the largest quantum computing systems available for commercial use. Included in that system is a 53-qubit computer, one of the largest made available for external access. In the press release announcing their membership, the company highlighted quantum computing’s ability to improve the prediction of health outcomes as well as develop more personalized treatment options.
Though Anthem said recently that quantum isn’t quite ready for primetime, by building a roadmap for quantum applications, they hope to quickly ramp up their use of quantum computing power to deliver better health outcomes.
Quantum computing in health insurance is still in its infancy and likely won’t significantly impact the operation of the typical health insurer for another decade. But, it’s still a technology that health insurers need to monitor and develop long-term plans that will make it easier to implement game-changing quantum computing as it matures.
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