Can intelligent automation reduce errors in the healthcare sector?
By automating processes and streamlining clinical pathways, intelligent automation can empower the healthcare industry to provide better patient care.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems worldwide have been tested and placed under enormous strain. While in Australia, we’ve been extremely fortunate to avoid the devastating scenes of inundated hospitals in Europe, the pandemic has heightened the risk of overwhelming our health system in a much less visible way.
A combination of factors, such as the sudden flux in testing volume, the additional burden placed on healthcare workers, the introduction of new protocols and more, means medical errors pose a greater risk than ever before. Aside from the dangerous health-based implications of these errors, we must also consider the emotional impact on patients involved, as well as the legal liabilities that may also ensue.
The gravity of this kind of error has already been realised, with England making headlines after a technical glitch caused almost 16,000 COVID-19 cases to go unreported. Had a similar thing happened over the past week in Victoria with the Holiday Inn cluster, would the state have faced a third wave?
The cause? An eye-wateringly simple issue: Microsoft Excel files exceeded the maximum size after being sent from the testing provider to Public Health England. While individuals who tested positive received their results, contact tracing did not occur, exposing potentially hundreds of thousands of citizens to the virus.
With an investigation still underway, incidents like this remind us of the severity of the consequences minor errors can have, not just for healthcare providers or their patients, but the broader community, especially in the current global climate when the simplest mistake could be a disaster. So we must ask, how can we reduce, or even eliminate, these risks?
Even prior to the pandemic, preventing medical errors was a priority for my team. Now even more so, we are developing intelligent automation systems that remove human error from the equation and minimise the risk of tech-based mistakes to keep Australians safe.
More than just AI: creating smarter intelligence
Intelligent automation relies on a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) — not just a simple algorithm — to create more accurate, dynamic processes, which in turn reduce the time and risk associated with humans doing manual data entry tasks. We often refer to these systems as digital workers or robots.
For the healthcare sector, using digital workers means our highly trained frontline workers can spend less time on admin and more time focusing on their patients and improving quality of care.
Some of the applications we find are most successful include:
- Patient diagnostics: Intelligent automation can connect systems and streamline clinical processes to shorten the waiting time between tests, results and treatment. This not only improves patient experience but gives vital time back to clinicians, especially in life-threatening situations.
- Patient information presentation: Digital workers can aggregate medical records across disparate systems to present healthcare workers with a full picture of a patient’s medical history. Not only does this make it easier and more accurate to diagnose disease, it ensures a holistic treatment pathway that reduces the likelihood of clinicians missing key information.
- Case management: As patients move through various areas of the healthcare system (such as primary care, ambulance services, secondary care and into community care) the likelihood of delays and errors increases with each touchpoint. Intelligent automation can be used to manage cases and collate data and notes across multiple systems, creating a safer journey for the patient, while also reducing onerous and time-consuming work for staff.
- Patient engagement: Follow-up care is just as important as in-facility care. After discharging patients, robots are often used to create patient portals that can manage treatment plans, auto-schedule follow-up appointments and reminders, and streamline patient history to improve their recovery experience.
Patient self-service: Especially important during the pandemic to minimise human contact, facilities can replace staff with digital worker kiosks so that patients can register themselves. This not only reduces pressure on staff resources and wait times, healthcare providers can also integrate facial recognition technology to enable automatic check-ins for repeat patients and have their records ready to go.
As massive streams of data are continuously uploaded into medical databases and admin systems, these examples demonstrate how intelligent automation can support Australia’s healthcare infrastructure and create efficiencies for providers, staff and patients. While automation won’t solve all of our problems, leaders already recognise the value in these tools for keeping our essential workers focused on their most important work. However, we’ve still got a long way to go; a deeper focus on digital transformation is imperative to truly optimise our healthcare system, and make taxpayer dollars go further to keep pace with the country’s healthcare needs.
It’s vital that healthcare providers don’t underestimate intelligent automation as an unnecessary tech toy, but an essential tool for creating a smarter healthcare system that works harder for Australians.
By investing in automation, healthcare providers can enhance clinical and non-clinical services, reduce admin burden on staff and ensure that we minimise the impact of human error on patient care and the broader general public.
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