It should come as no surprise that medical advancement is a top priority for both healthcare organizations and society at large. Advancements in health care improve average life spans and quality of life. But how do we know we're moving in the right direction? Here's where Healthy People 2030 comes in.
Released on August 18, 2020, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Healthy People 2030 is designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts to improve the nation's health. The initiative provides science-based national objectives with 10-year targets (this is the fifth iteration of Healthy People). In simple words, Healthy People sets the federal plan for the nation's health and provides a model for promoting health and well-being at every level (state and local).
Healthy People 2030 offers 350 core objectives to be tracked over the decade. These objectives are split into several categories, including General, Adolescents, Cancer, Children, Diabetes, Drug and Alcohol Use, Health Care Access and Quality, and many more.
Technology will undoubtedly play a significant role in advancing these objectives in the right direction. And no technology is more critical here than automation. Automation, specifically robotic process automation (RPA), can make a significant impact, even with very basic use cases. With this in mind, let's dive into how automating essential functions at clinics can help healthcare providers improve the health and well-being of their patients.
How Does Automation Support National Health Objectives?
Here's the bottom line. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Academy of Medicine found that burnout had reached "crisis levels" among the U.S. health workforce. Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.
Of course, people in any profession can experience burnout. However, the stakes are much higher in the healthcare industry - It has potentially harmful consequences for patient care and safety. For example, overworked and disengaged employees are more likely to make errors, work slower, or unconsciously limit the time spent engaging with each patient.
In a letter on this topic, the U.S. Surgeon General said, "Today, when I visit a hospital, clinic, or health department and ask staff how they're doing, many tell me they feel exhausted, helpless, and heartbroken."
He continued, "They still draw strength from their colleagues and inspiration from their patients, but in quiet whispers, they also confess they don't see how the health workforce can continue like this. Something has to change, they say. They are right... We have a moral obligation to address the long-standing crisis of burnout, exhaustion, and moral distress across the health community. We owe health workers far more than our gratitude. We owe them an urgent debt of action."
Automation forms a vital element of this urgent debt of action. When workers are drowning in administrative tasks, they have less time for patients. And when they spend most of their working hours on repetitive tasks that don't bring any sense of accomplishment, they become demotivated. This is where RPA comes in.
RPA takes those tedious, repetitive, and rules-based tasks off the hands of people into the hands (or wires) of robots. With RPA, medical staff can do away with dull administrative tasks and focus on the tasks that require decision-making and leadership skills.
Automation Use Cases That Support Healthy People 2030
Let's look at how RPA can help us achieve better outcomes for patients by 2030.
Screening and Exam Notifications
Screening is a fundamental aspect of a functioning modern healthcare landscape. Screening tests detect potential health disorders or diseases in people with no symptoms of a disease. The goal here is to identify a condition before it develops, or at a very early stage. In this way, we can prevent certain diseases before they occur or treat them before they start causing problems.
Healthy People 2030 outlines several screening objectives aimed at different areas of medicine. For example, screening tests (and objectives) exist for dental, eye, specific cancers, development, depression, sleep disorders, and so on.
Evidence-based cancer screenings form a vital element of these objectives. These include screenings for breast, lung, cervical, and colorectal cancers. Cancer screening can help find cancer before signs or symptoms appear and potentially extend lives.
RPA can help here. RPA systems can scan data to find patients with lifestyle factors or prior health conditions that make them susceptible to specific conditions. For example, the American Cancer Society recommends cervical cancer screening with an HPV test every five years for everyone with a cervix from age 25 to 65. Here, age and whether or not you have a cervix are the qualifiers an RPA system can look for. Similar factors exist for other tests.
The RPA system can then send notifications to patients to book their cervical screening test. And once the test results come in, the RPA bot can automatically send patients the information they need to view the results.
Health Care Access and Quality
Health care access is typically defined as the ease with which a person can obtain needed medical care. Various factors can limit health care access. These include insufficient insurance coverage, healthcare staffing shortages, transportation and work-related barriers, language barriers, long wait times, superstitions and cultural factors, and more.
So, that's health care access, but what's health care quality? Quality of care is typically defined as the degree to which health services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes. To achieve health care quality, health services must be:
- Timely: Short wait times and no harmful delays.
- Equitable: Care that doesn't vary in quality based on factors like ethnicity, gender, geographic location, and socio-economic status.
- Integrated: Providing the full range of health services.
- Efficient: Reducing waste and maximizing the use of the available resources.
Health care access and quality go hand in hand. There's no use in making it easier for patients to access services if those services fail to function correctly. Luckily, RPA can help with both access and quality in various ways:
- Reducing wait times: Back-office RPA processes can reduce administrative burden and dramatically narrow the time between tasks. This means healthcare practitioners have more time to spend with patients.
- Staffing shortages: Digital workers (RPA bots) can often do the work of many human workers and do it faster and without errors.
- Gathering critical patient data: To improve access to healthcare, healthcare organizations need to understand how and why patients are struggling to access services. RPA bots can generate and send out surveys to collect vital information about how to improve access.
- Easing time-related barriers: Smart bots can handle simple patient requests like appointment bookings, access to public health advice, and access to medical records even when medical practitioners aren't available. This reduces patients' need to always make time to conduct these tasks during the workday.
Scheduling and Rescheduling
Another compelling use case of RPA is scheduling appointments. The RPA bot can make appointments using the specific medical personnel's schedules. Calendar apps use RPA to help determine when the right doctor or other medical specialists will be available to attend to certain patients needing their services - eliminating the chance of scheduling conflicts. RPA tools can also automatically cancel or postpone an appointment if a doctor can't make it due to unavoidable reasons. Moreover, RPA bots can send reminders to patients in the days and hours before the appointment.
Efficient and effective scheduling and rescheduling are critical in a world where the U.S. healthcare system loses $150 billion each year due to missed appointments.
Access to Medical Records (EHR)
Robotic process automation plays a huge role in making Electronic Health Record (EHR) processing more efficient. EHRs are real-time, digital, patient-centered records maintained by the healthcare provider. EHRs can be made available to anyone with the appropriate level of authorization.
EHRs have been a massive game-changer for the healthcare industry, allowing for better data analysis, less data loss, and improved medical decision-making. However, they haven't been without their issues either. Many healthcare organizations began their EHR journey early (sometimes several decades ago). As a result, many EHR systems rely on outdated and inflexible technology that limits speedy access to medical records.
But RPA can combat this issue. RPA makes use of scripts and business logic to handle many aspects of EHRs, including managing reports, tracking data for regulatory compliance, assisting with pre-authorizations, reducing manual data entry, and improving patient communications. For example, RPA bots can automatically generate documents with key information the patient needs to know following an appointment with a doctor.
Automation offers many benefits to the healthcare sector, and these benefits are instrumental in promoting better health outcomes over the coming decade and beyond. By automating back-office tasks in critical areas, we can alleviate the workload of medical practitioners and improve healthcare access and quality for patients. And if that wasn't enough, robotic process automation also saves money! Saving money is paramount in a world where healthcare costs continue to soar yearly.
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July 19, 2023