Robotic process automation (RPA) is taking the world by storm, and the healthcare industry is no exception. Mckinsey - a trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world's most influential businesses - declared robotic process automation as one of the emerging technologies that will reshape healthcare in the coming years. What's more, RPA is expected to create between $350 billion and $410 billion in annual value by 2025.
But just how are these smart bots adding value? And what will a future with automation at the wheel look like? Let's get into it.
How Automation Helps Healthcare
Before we dive into the top use cases of robotic process automation in healthcare, it's essential to define what exactly RPA is and how it works.
Robotic process automation, or RPA, is a subset of intelligent automation that employs software robots to perform repetitive and rules-based back-office tasks usually performed by humans. These tasks include extracting data, moving files, filling in forms, and more. But how does RPA work in practice? RPA tools execute various activities and transactions across unrelated software systems. This is achieved through automation scripts. Critically, RPA is system-agnostic (it doesn’t rely on any one software, language, or platform). This means investing in these smart bots is often much cheaper than overhauling your IT landscape with dedicated automation suites.
Now that we have a clear understanding of RPA let's look at how healthcare organizations leverage RPA today.
While the appointment booking process is usually online these days, processing these bookings on the back end is often still a manual task. This can take up many hundreds of collective hours of workers' time. Robotic process automation offers a better solution.
The RPA bot can schedule patients' appointments based on diagnosis, doctor availability, location, financial statements, insurance information, and more, all without human intervention. Smart bots can also send appointment reminders to patients, which is critical in a world where missed appointments cost the US healthcare industry an astounding $150 billion annually.
Medical billing, payments, and insurance claims processing are highly-repetitive tasks that take up a good chunk of employees' time. They're also the kind of tasks that are perfect for disruption by automation.
RPA bots can extract payment details using optical character recognition (OCR), then log into the accounting system to input the data in the relevant field. Then, the bot emails the invoice to the patient and even follows up on unpaid invoices. More widely, invoicing is one of the areas where RPA is used most heavily.
Healthcare is one of the most highly-regulated industries in existence. And while regulation can be frustrating at times, it's there to ensure patients' access to safe, effective, and high-quality products - a worthy endeavor.
With that said, navigating regulatory compliance is complex. Healthcare organizations must adhere to many laws and policies that safeguard healthcare employees and customers. The processes involved in maintaining these compliance standards are typically stable, rule-based, require structured inputs, manual, and repetitive - perfect for robotic process automation.
RPA bots can create structured logs of critical information so that everything is accounted for. This is a crucial time saver when it comes to auditing. Smart bots can also verify logs against regulations and policies, automate regulatory reporting tasks, and eliminate unauthorized access to privileged data.
Data Entry, Migration, and Management
Digital workers can do much of the time-consuming and resource-intensive work involved in data entry, migration, and management. This includes onboarding new employees and patients, migrating patient records, and more.
Healthcare Supply Chain Automation
Healthcare organizations often manage hundreds of vital deliveries every day. With smart bots, healthcare organizations can track orders against agreed delivery times with suppliers, log deliveries, and notify departments when stock has arrived. RPA bots can also automatically reorder items when inventory is low, ensuring everything runs smoothly.
What Are the Positive Impacts of RPA in Healthcare?
While RPA bots do have an upfront cost, they are significantly cheaper in the long term. Hiring an employee is one of the most expensive parts of running a business. Not only do employees require a salary, which can be costly in highly-skilled sectors like healthcare, but employees also incur other costs.
For example, many businesses fail to factor in the cost of onboarding and training, including the cost of new IT equipment, formal training, the cost of employee support (other team members offering support to the new hire), and the loss of productivity as the fresh start gets up to speed. Then there's the cost of background checks and security clearance, both of which are vital in healthcare. And there are most costs still - benefits, bonuses, referrals, and ongoing training.
By contrast, RPA bots have one upfront cost and minimal operating costs. Additionally, RPA bots can work 24/7 without breaks, never get distracted, and never fall ill.
According to one report, 86% of the mistakes in the healthcare industry are administrative. People make mistakes for numerous reasons, including:
- Multi-step processes are more naturally vulnerable to typos and miscalculations.
- Tedious tasks lead to boredom and burnout, encouraging our brains to switch off and exacerbating the human error rate.
- High employee turnover leads to process knowledge leakage and training constraints, driving errors.
Smart bots are excellent at combating human error because:
- Smart bots don't care how many steps a process involves or how complex it is.
- Smart bots are 100% consistent - they do the same thing, every time, and without error.
- Bots don't get tired or distracted. The one-millionth task is the same as the first in terms of quality and speed.
Back-office and Operational Efficiency
By reducing the burden of repetitive, monotonous tasks, healthcare organizations experience boosted efficiency. Processes happen faster, and employees devote less time to jobs that don't actively add value, like data entry and correcting for mistakes. And when employees' time is freed up for more critical tasks, everyone benefits - the healthcare organization and the patient.
Improved Patient Experiences
Improving back-office systems has a positive impact on patient experiences. For example, RPA can help usher in new self-service channels that allow patients to access critical medical information on an on-demand basis, significantly reducing wait times and the pressure on the entire healthcare organization. Simply put, RPA bots help patients find more convenient ways to access care, reducing the burden of unnecessary appointments.
Boosted Employee Satisfaction
Here's the bottom line. Employees don't enjoy mundane, repetitive tasks. You might be thinking, "Well, they're at work. They don't have to enjoy work." However, this line of reasoning is a mistake. You don't get the most out of unhappy employees, and in a healthcare environment, dissatisfied workers come at a higher cost - patient livelihoods are at stake.
Repetitive tasks zap creativity and reduce productivity. When workers are bored, their brains are less alert, and everything slows down. And perhaps more concerningly, one study found that repetitive tasks lead to more rule-breaking. Workers tend to behave unethically when their unchecked, automatic responses lead the way. By contrast, workers act less unethically when they use deliberate and reflective reasoning. But here's the problem - we don't employ deliberate and reflective reasoning for repetitive tasks.
This rule-breaking arises unconsciously, but it can be a significant problem for healthcare organizations. For example, adhering to compliance standards requires a high degree of accuracy and respect for the rules. Anything less than strict observance of the rules can land healthcare organizations in hot water.
Faster Data Transfers
Most healthcare organizations are in the process of digital transformation. This typically means moving away from paper-based processes and towards electronic health records. However, this process is often slow and fraught with issues.
For example, some healthcare organizations adopted Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems long ago, and these systems are struggling to keep up with the demands of modern healthcare environments. This may mean organizations need to deploy a new system or rely on other software to bridge any functionality gaps.
In addition, outdated technology and manual processes are still common in healthcare organizations today. For example, a whopping 70% of healthcare providers still exchange medical information by fax, and this figure is higher still for nursing facilities. Fax machines and paper-based ways of working are slow and inefficient, and increase the chances of data misuse. As a result, healthcare organizations are under immense pressure to adopt new digital initiatives.
As more and more healthcare organizations abandon paper and embrace digital, the need for data transfers will skyrocket. RPA can help here. RPA can migrate vast amounts of data to new systems and perform crucial data management tasks like data cleansing.
One study found that workers spend more than three hours a day on repetitive and easily automatable tasks. This represents a colossal waste of time, money, and human potential.
The jury isn't out on robotic process automation. RPA has clear, measurable benefits in saving time, saving effort, improving patient experiences, and cutting costs in healthcare organizations. For these reasons, RPA adoption in healthcare is expected to skyrocket in the coming years.
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July 19, 2023