In 2013, HealthLeaders reported 3 out of 4 hospital and health systems CEOs indicated overall cost reduction and efficiency as one of their top two financial priorities. The automation of manual tasks is an important strategy for performance improvement as the healthcare industry continually works to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Robotic process automation (RPA) might not be one of the first options discussed when considering the implementation of process automation in the healthcare industry, but it is a place where RPA has the potential for great transformation. RPA is essential to streamlining back-office processes eliminating paperwork and reducing the amount of time it takes to process files. However, RPA goes far beyond these simple tasks. It helps healthcare providers not only reduce costs and gain efficiency, but also increase the quality of patient care and the amount of time spent with patients.
Before we can discuss the beneficial roles of RPA in the healthcare industry, let’s first examine the challenges faced by healthcare providers today.
Challenges in the healthcare industry
With many moving parts within the healthcare industry, ie. patients, doctors, insurance companies, etc., there are many challenges faced in becoming more streamlined and efficient as a whole. Some of the biggest operational challenges faced by healthcare providers include:
Rising costs: Macroeconomic factors like aging populations and insufficient public funding are challenging both receivers and providers of healthcare. Health care costs are expected to grow 6.5% worldwide through next year alone. Spending and economic recession tend to be closely linked and it is expected the rate of healthcare spending in Europe to outstrip the gross domestic product growth significantly during the current economic times. It is essential for health care systems to work towards more streamlined processes to save money and cut health care costs.
Changing demographics: Healthcare is an evolving and growth-oriented field with the number of patients increasing every year. According to the Global Health and Aging report presented by the World Health Organization (WHO), “The number of people aged 65 or older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050, with most of the increase in developing countries.” There are major concerns that staffing levels will not be able to keep up with this increase in patients. The need for more efficient and accurate processes will continue to significantly increase for healthcare providers.
Lack of efficiency and customer experience: The quality of healthcare is increasingly important as patients begin to exercise their right to choose how and with whom they engage for their healthcare needs. As demand increases for clinicians, there is global wide decline of number of graduates emerging from medical school. This all attributes to lack of quality care for patients and doctors being overwhelmed with too many patients to see along with the other office requirements that they have to accomplish.
With these challenges in mind, let’s explore what roles RPA plays in the healthcare system and how it can transform the healthcare industry while restoring the balance between patients and providers.
Best uses for RPA in healthcare
As hospital works to cut costs, increase efficiency, and drive high quality care for patients, there are many roles that RPA plays in achieving these goals. Some of them include:
Revenue cycles: The use of RPA in the healthcare industry has great potential to expand far past back office functions. In particular, RPA can greatly help within the revenue cycle and administrative processes. There are multiple changes in code that occur throughout any given billing cycle and RPA has the ability to accommodate and adapt to change quickly and easily. By automating time-consuming and repetitive processes, such as data digitization and accounts payable, RPA is able to lead to an improvement of billing efficiency and a reduction in write-offs, thus saving healthcare providers much needed resources. Additionally, RPA is also extremely beneficial in medical records to provide analysis and data based on a patient’s condition and response. As a result, the use of RPA in the healthcare field is highly advantageous to the financial performance of healthcare providers.
Labor savings: Using automation to replace manually intensive tasks with machines can be a significant time saver. Rather than eliminating employees, RPA elevates them into higher-functioning roles that make use of the clinical expertise they have been trained for. Naturally, the consistent base of care activities found in RPA leads to employees that are more focused, fulfilled, and devoted to patient care and their positions. In 2009, a Texas hospital study found that greater automation in the areas of medical records, order entry, and decision support appeared to result in a reduction in deaths, complications and cost. When employees are content within their positions, they are more likely to continue working and providing care of the increasing amount of patients within the healthcare system.
Patient and health plan management: Healthcare systems are now geared towards population health, an approach that aims to improve the health of an entire human population. With this, automation is the only way for processes to be addressed on such a massive scale. As the Institute of Health Technology Transformation reports, “Automation makes population health management feasible, scalable and sustainable.”
RPA supports utilization management, care coordination, case management, and remote monitoring of patients within the healthcare system. When patients follow a standardized care path supported by RPA, it is more likely they will stay on track towards predicted outcomes. Additionally, health care providers can see patients that have deviated from their care plans and intervene as necessary. RPA allows for continued monitoring of patients while providing continuous high quality care. Doctors have more time to spend with their patients as RPA helps to manage their caseload while freeing up healthcare providers to focus on their work with patients.
RPA as a component of healthcare
RPA is used to automate processes and can also deliver a wealth of data in a continuous feedback loop that can be used for performance improvement and optimization. RPA systems can collect data on how the process is working and use that information to improve the program with every cycle. Over time, the system improves itself, becoming even more efficient, more accurate and more helpful to the provider’s workload.
With a growing number of people entering the healthcare system in the years to come, RPA is an essential tool to healthcare providers in better streamlining processes, saving on labor costs, gaining higher efficiency, and greatly increasing the quality of patient care.