Bob Darin, who leads the company’s enterprise data strategy, discusses how to take consumer-centric health care services to the next level using AI and other data-driven technologies.CVS Health is on a mission to reinvent health care and guide patients on their path to better health.
Drawing on the strength of its range of brands, which include CVS Pharmacy, CVS Caremark, and Aetna, the company is using data analytics and AI to transform its retail footprint into a broader set of services that can provide consumers with a one-stop health care experience.
“We want to help patients manage their entire health care journey,” says Bob Darin, senior vice president and chief data officer at CVS Health/Aetna and chief analytics officer at CVS Pharmacy. “We are bringing data together and overlaying it with analytics, data science, and algorithms to better understand the most effective strategies and services for our customers.”
Darin handles the development and deployment of advanced analytics and data science across CVS Health retail business functions. “Data analytics is challenging in health care because patients aren’t widgets,” he says. “They have their own unique sets of issues with differing levels of severity, so achieving comparability is challenging—but that’s also why it’s so exciting.”
In this “AI From the Front Lines” interview, Darin recently spoke with Beena Ammanath, executive director of the Deloitte AI Institute, about the health care leader’s work to broaden understanding of AI and analytics across its organizations, and the myths and challenges companies must overcome to succeed with these emerging technologies.
Ammanath: I understand you don’t come from a health care background, yet you were a data scientist before that term was even coined. What led you to CVS?
Darin: I went to business school and studied the mathematics and models typically used to drive the pricing and trading of complex financial instruments. At the time, I was also working for Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and while there I used these skills as I started to focus on the application of analytics in health care. That includes how to better understand the health care system, how to create transparency, and how to put those analytics in the hands of people who can make a difference.
When the call came to work for CVS, I was unaware of the company’s mission to connect its pharmacy and benefit management expertise to drive better health care outcomes for customers. There are so many exciting CVS assets related to the delivery of health care, from MinuteClinics and acute care services to Aetna insurance. Now I’m in the midst of a nine-year journey to promote the use of analytics across the CVS Health enterprise.
According to Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise, as adoption becomes ubiquitous, AI-powered organizations may have to work harder to maintain an edge in their industry. There are always startups trying to solve a problem you might already be trying to solve for. You have to stay on top of the research happening in academia, movements in the business world, and regulations and policies. An IT ecosystem to connect these different players seems more needed as ever.
Absolutely. It is challenging to keep up with the pace of change, including technology, regulation, markets, and rising customer expectations. Health care is such a big marketplace, and there are so many opportunities for innovation. We have to achieve the balance of where to execute and how to be flexible and change the market. It keeps my job very interesting. In the future, a high degree of agility will be necessary in order to adapt, so that is a key characteristic we seek in building our teams.
From a retail perspective, I use CVS Pharmacy a lot and remember that, even two or three years ago, printed coupons did not feel aligned to what I was buying. But now, they become more relevant each time I fill a prescription.
That’s good to hear, because we want those coupons to surprise and delight our customers. It’s no longer just a generic offer that is the same for all customers; it’s a personalized one based on an understanding of the items you want because we know how you shop. We have clear restrictions on how we can use health care data but, as we continue to roll out more health care services, a big opportunity is to make even more personalized recommendations about associated CVS offerings.
Indeed, the opportunities are numerous. At the same time, there are so many AI headlines that could just be considered clickbait. Given that you have literally grown up in the field, what is the biggest myth you have heard about AI?
That the only goal of AI is to reduce costs. The nature of business is that we have to use technology to boost efficiency, and like any other technology, AI is a tool to do that. But we’re not trying to replace the pharmacist or people dealing with patients. AI won’t supplant the decision-making and thinking and creativity of people—in fact, it will complement those skills and make our customer experience more frictionless.
One thing is for sure: AI is ever evolving. How is CVS promoting learning opportunities to help its professionals stay continually engaged with the advances in this field?
One of our objectives for the year ahead is to systematically enhance our organization’s collective ability to ingest and synthesize the way the world is changing with respect to AI, analytics, data science, and machine learning. In doing so, we are looking not only to broaden the analytics team’s understanding of these technologies but also to roll out data literacy programs to a much broader set of employees. It’s a big challenge, but the more we can encourage our people to consider the possibilities of these technologies—perhaps by drawing from examples in other industries—the more opportunities we’re likely to unlock.
As a business executive leading the charge on AI in health care, I wonder how AI has impacted you personally. What are some of the differences you’ve seen in your daily life compared with 10 years ago?
Like any consumer’s, my expectations have gone up dramatically for everyone I do business with. I expect more from my bank, from my travel experience, from my voice assistant. I spend a lot less time on the phone with customer service agents. I shop differently. I like accomplishing tasks in a couple of clicks and organizing items in a way that is natural for me.
It’s interesting what we have come to expect. I find myself subconsciously evaluating brands. For instance, I won’t want to shop with them if they don’t have a digital app I can order from. Have you changed your behavior with regard to companies that have used technology better?
Banking, travel, and entertainment are areas that I find offer a better customer experience, and I think CVS Health can offer that level of personalization and care. For instance, we’re using AI to improve processing of prescription medications and are seeing great value in continuing to make our services faster, more efficient, and increasingly responsive to customer needs. That’s our mission and the journey we are on. We are really excited about being the brand that makes health care easier using a whole range of technologies, including AI.
This is the second article in the series “AI From the Front Lines,” which goes beyond the hype to reveal the opportunities and challenges enterprises can realize through AI and data analytics, featuring the real-world experiences of enterprise executives in conversation with Beena Ammanath, executive director of Deloitte’s AI Institute.