Automation has come a way since Henry Ford introduced it in the assembly lines. While certain industries like manufacturing, banking and retail have been quicker in the widespread adoption of automated processes, the healthcare industry has been traditionally slow on the uptake of technology.
According to Deloitte’s global RPA survey, 53 percent of the respondents have started robotic process automation which is expected to increase to 72 percent by 2020. Fortunately, the scenario in healthcare systems is changing rapidly with the healthcare organizations jumping onto the automation bandwagon as well.
Automation: A savior or the key to a dystopian future?
There has been a huge divide between the arguments of the advantages and disadvantages that introduction of automation results in the field of healthcare. The proponents argue for the advantages introduction of automation brings while the opponents raise concerns over loss of jobs owing to implementation of automation.
Despite the dystopian picture painted by the naysayers, the future of healthcare definitely doesn’t involve the replacement of healthcare personnel by machines and treatment being offered by robots zooming around the hospital hallways.
In reality, automation in healthcare has the potential to enhance the efficiency of patient care, bring down the costs associated with healthcare delivery by using technology to automate the repetitive tasks freeing up the healthcare providers time, allowing them to engage in more cognitive tasks.
As the industry transforms for a fee-for-service model to an outcome-based, value-oriented approach, the importance of automation becomes higher than ever. Add the rapidly aging population and increased cost of labor to the mix and the importance of robotic process automation becomes all the more evident.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
RPA makes use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to result in smart software robots. These bots act as a digital workforce that takes over the basic, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks from their human counterparts and execute them with greater speed and accuracy.
Automation of repetitive clerical tasks reduces the chances of human error and allows healthcare professionals to focus on high-level tasks instead, thus improving the quality of patient care and enhancing the patient experience.
Benefits of automation in healthcare
1. Effective scheduling of patients
Scheduling patient appointments is a major part of any clinical practice. The healthcare staff spends a considerable chunk of time booking future appointments, answering calls from the patients and responding to queries, and making follow up calls to remind the patients of the upcoming appointments.
Automating the scheduling of appointments can free up the crucial time of healthcare staff thereby optimizing the daily workflows to be more effective. AI powered chatbots can be used to solve the basic patient queries and book appointments. Such automation would also result in more efficient schedules allowing the doctor to cater to a larger number of patients.
2. Claims management and smoother billing process
Processing of claims takes up a lot of the time of healthcare administrators. It typically involves a number of subprocesses from filling up data and filing the claims to evaluating them and taking care of the appeals.
Automation can not only lessen the burden here but also result in error-free processing of claims. According to a report by Ernst and Young, automation in claims management improves the turnover time of claims processing by 75-85 percent. It also saves up on accumulated costs as a result of the denial of claims.
By automating the data entry through bots, healthcare organizations can also make the billing process more efficient and error-free. Elimination of manual processes and automating the revenue cycle frees up the staff to deal with technically challenging work on a priority basis rather than focusing on the routine monotonous work.
3. Lesser discrepancies in EMRs and EHRs
The introduction of electronic medical records have promoted accessibility and interoperability in the field of healthcare but on the flip side, they have also increased the burnout that medical professionals experience as a result of clerical work of inputting the data into patient records.
Use of Artificial intelligence and natural language processing can result in automated updation of the patient’s medical records. Voice based smart assistants and speech to text transcription can drastically reduce the time spent digitizing the records and increase the amount of time the healthcare practitioners spend at the patient’s bedside.
Incorporation of the patient data collected from medical devices into the EMRs through internet of medical things also reduces the non clinical burden on the doctors resulting in an accurate data input with fewer discrepancies.
4. Improved health outcomes as a result of clinical efficiency
The care plan that is automated results in better patient adherence as well. Regular reminders for medications and follow up visits to the patients through the use of various communication tools improves patient compliance.
Automation ensures that patient sticks to the plan resulting in improved health outcomes. Any deviations can also be detected and timely interventions by the healthcare practitioners can be done, either virtually via telehealth or by in-person visits to ensure the best possible outcomes as well as improved clinical efficiency.
5. Enhanced security
Patient health data is subject to a number of regulatory compliances including HIPAA (Health insurance portability and accountability act). Automation ensures that the patient data security is maintained so that you are less likely to end up in the violation of accidentally revealing HIPAA sensitive patient information.
Automation ensures that the patient data is fully traceable, well-documented and systematically organized into logs which can be easily accessed at any point of time. Automation also ensures that human touchpoints are minimized, increasing the data security by reducing the chances of human error as well as data tampering.
6. Long term cost reduction
The one time costs of setting up automated processes seems higher but when seen on a long term basis, automation results in significant cost savings for the healthcare organizations. According to research by Deloitte, between 51 to 60 percent of hospitals could see negative margins by 2025 if they are unable to achieve productivity growth.
Healthcare model is a resource intensive one. The rise in age-related diseases, demand for healthcare professionals directly results in rising healthcare costs. Replacing the manual intensive tasks that are performed better using technology by automation elevates the employees to higher-functioning roles. In this manner they can make use of their clinical expertise while saving significant healthcare costs.
7. Improved quality of healthcare delivery
One of the major concerns of introduction of automation in healthcare is that people believe it is aimed at replacing doctors and nursing staff. Similar concerns were raised when automation was implemented in pharmacy but the only thing it actually resulted in was elimination of repetitive tasks of low cognitive effort by the use of technology thereby freeing up the pharmacists to focus on tasks that required higher mental effort.
Use of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare lets the healthcare professionals automate repetitive tasks such as radiological diagnosis, analysis of pathological images etc. Since the doctors can focus on the patient-centric activities, automation automatically improves the quality of healthcare delivery.
While the application of automation in healthcare has numerous benefits, the application of technology is only as effective as the humans behind it. The process that needs to be automated needs to be clear of any inefficiencies that may cause errors or else the entire automation exercise would end up a waste.
Software bots are a powerful digital workforce that have the potential to work tirelessly in the background so that doctors and administrators can focus on improving patient outcomes for the growing number of people gaining access to care and deliver quality healthcare services at lowered costs.
The future of healthcare is definitely digital. As technology keeps evolving, automation would get a further boost with the incorporation of machine learning algorithms. The availability and access to data is constantly on the rise because of technology. Using the data to draw meaningful inferences by application of big data analytics can be used to train the AI algorithms to result in clinical decision support systems. The healthcare providers will transform into specialized roles who would work in conjugation with technology in order to result in the best possible treatment modalities for the patients.