Automating Healthcare with RPA: A Beginners Guide

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Automating Healthcare With RPA: A Beginners Guide

Robotic process automation (RPA) can be a massive game-changer for healthcare organizations. The World Health Organization predicts a global shortage of 15 million health workers by 2030, which could see millions of people denied healthcare. 

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated things by putting healthcare services worldwide under unprecedented strain. But perhaps more concerning is the strain emerging technologies are putting on an already strained system. For example, while the flourishing telemedicine industry has enabled easier access to medical practitioners, it's caused widespread inefficiencies in other areas. Namely, workers who manually input data and process claims are now busier than ever. 

But there's a better way forward. When software automation can take on thousands of complex repetitive tasks and processes, it alleviates the pressure on the whole system - patients, partners, caregivers, administrators, and the community at large. With this in mind, let's look at how RPA is changing healthcare for the better and how you can get started on your RPA journey. 

Why Automate? The Benefits of RPA in Healthcare

As a traditional industry stocked full of legacy systems and stringent regulations, friction is rife in healthcare. Healthcare organizations have to battle with siloed systems that struggle to exchange information. This means that the job of inputting records and ensuring everything is up to date falls on workers. 

At its core, the primary benefit of RPA in healthcare is about reducing friction, not automating jobs to reduce the workforce. Or in other words, RPA doesn't replace medical practitioners but instead makes their jobs easier. This is crucial when you consider that repetitive and tedious tasks (those best handled by RPA) are often demotivating for healthcare professionals, leading to reduced morale and potentially worse experiences for all. 

Getting further into the details, RPA offers significant gains in multiple areas. For example, RPA can boost productivity by streamlining workflows, allowing more effective patient scheduling, and improving the care cycle with data analytics and continuous record monitoring. RPA also vastly reduces the number of costly errors in data due to human distraction. In addition, it allows healthcare organizations to scale their business processes rapidly to achieve benefits across departments. And lastly, it enables more efficient data management and breaks down those pesky silos across systems. 

Ultimately, RPA reduces friction and thereby enables superior healthcare quality. When you save time, reduce costs, and eliminate the risk of human error, healthcare facilities become empowered to focus on more valuable, patient-centered tasks. 

Getting Started - How should you approach your RPA journey in Healthcare? 

It can be challenging to navigate the tricky first steps in adopting robotic process automation. Companies in the healthcare sector can vary massively in scale, from those with 10s of staff to those with several thousand. And for companies of all sizes, knowing where to strike first with automation can determine your experience with software automation as a whole. With this in mind, we'll outline three major strategies for getting started with RPA in healthcare. 

Start Small

Sometimes you can see the biggest ROI with the most simple use cases. You don't always have to start by tackling the business's most complex and mission-critical elements, even if you want to get there eventually. So, what are some small use cases where RPA can have a huge impact? 

Billing and scheduling are two areas where straightforward RPA solutions offer colossal time and cost-saving benefits. While critical to the functioning of any thriving healthcare business, medical billing, payments, and adjustments are typically time-consuming and tedious for people. But these qualities make medical billing prime for RPA. Bots can handle claims management tasks, including evaluating claims, streamlining billing and invoicing, collecting payments, and more. 

With RPA, healthcare organizations can achieve more robust billing cycles, significantly optimizing human labor and financial resources. Automating revenue cycle functions also decreases the cost per claim, leading to significant cost savings. For example, by automating accounts payable processes, payment processing happens faster and with fewer errors, increasing confidence in the system and freeing up workers' time. Time is extremely valuable in healthcare, where delays can have a tangible impact on patient outcomes. Look no further than Ally Pediatric for an example of RPA's time-saving power in action. This behavioral health company reduced the time taken to gather, validate, and send invoices by 90% by leveraging RPA. 

Managing and scheduling patient appointments is another small area where RPA can have a considerable impact. Here, RPA bots can interact with customers, cancel, update, and rearrange appointments with no or little human input. This is crucial in a world where missed appointments cost US healthcare companies $150 billion annually. 

Start With IT

Since RPA is primarily a technological solution, the IT department must be involved and onboard. Healthcare organizations can often struggle to realize the benefits of RPA due to a lack of buy-in from IT decision-makers. However, it's also worth noting that RPA is often a much easier sell to an IT department than sweeping redesigns of whole IT systems. Healthcare organizations typically have siloed systems that house many terabytes of sensitive data and can't afford any downtime. This leads to a situation where the systems and processes already in place are very difficult to replace. 

Luckily, RPA doesn't require replacing anything; it simply facilitates better communication between systems to accelerate existing workflows. The key to getting IT support is proving the ROI of RPA, which is easily done. 

Start Now

Depending on the complexity of the automation you want to deploy, automation projects can take a while. Or in other words, if you want to experience the benefits of software automation in the near future, you need to start now. 

Moreover, getting a few successful automation projects under your belt can open opportunities for more automation projects in the future. Repetitive daily operations often take up a significant chunk of a healthcare organization's budget. Chipping away at these processes can improve your bottom line and get you on the road to next-level efficiency. With the amount of data we generate rising exponentially, healthcare organizations will have to choose between hiring more workers to handle more repetitive tasks or deploying RPA to meet this rising demand. 

Other Use Cases For RPA in Healthcare

In the last section, we dived into some of the most common use cases for RPA in healthcare, but there are still plenty of other areas healthcare companies can leverage robotic process automation. 

  • Compliance Management: It should come as no surprise that healthcare is one of the most heavily regulated industries out there. Ensuring compliance impacts both reputation and profitability. Healthcare organizations can incur severe fines for non-compliance. RPA tools around access control can help safeguard patient data and ensure only authorized individuals can access records. 
  • Digitizing Documents and Supporting Document Management: RPA can leverage intelligent document processing to prepare documents for use by humans or computer systems. 
  • Administrative Data Entry: Beyond billing, data entry is a critical element of many functions in healthcare. Typically, this work doesn't require specialized skills but involves handling a vast workload, massively increasing the chance of errors. Data entry automation offers huge benefits here. It can take data from various sources, handle both structured and unstructured data, and input data into the desired repository for use by the company. 

What Sized Companies Benefit From RPA?

When most people think of software automation, they think of the large-scale enterprises with the big bucks to invest in automation and scale their operations to extreme heights. However, while it's undoubtedly true that large companies invest heavily in RPA, that doesn't mean small and midsize businesses don't either. Efficiency gains are at the core of RPA, and businesses of all sizes are keen to boost efficiency to save time and money. 

Over the last few years, the cost of robotic process automation has reduced, making it more affordable and accessible for everyone. In addition, smaller and mid-sized businesses often face fierce competition from their multinational peers but operate with far more limited resources - namely manpower and technology. Here, RPA solutions can be a one-time investment that has a huge impact, allowing them to get more from their manpower while cutting down on their outsourcing costs. 

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At Thoughtful, we dive into the mechanics of automating your process and analyze the human/healthcare workflow through the lens of automation — uncovering ways to re-engineer the process and reduce wasted human effort. A process evaluation is the quickest way to discover and recover lost time and money.

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Final Thoughts

Embarking on your RPA journey can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. The key to success in RPA is knowing where to strike - do you want to start small and ease yourself in with high-impact ROI for small processes? Or get your IT function aligned and ready for massive RPA disruption? Whatever your goal, it's best to start today because automation is the future of the healthcare industry. Book a demo today to see how we can help your organization boost efficiency, productivity, and accuracy.

Author

Dan Parsons

Dan is the co-founder and COO of Thoughtful. He’s built his career in helping startups build incredible product roadmaps, driving innovation with strategic decision-making and thoughtful process improvements. Now, he’s taken that passion for innovation and project success and turned it into a way for companies of all sizes to scale their own operations, faster.

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