How intelligent automation is tackling health care's biggest challenges

By Dan Ternes, Chief Technology Officer APAC, SS&C Blue Prism
Monday, 23 January, 2023

How intelligent automation is tackling health care's biggest challenges

Every country’s healthcare system works differently, but the pandemic has exacerbated the common pressure points across front- and back-office operations, affecting the quality of patient care.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest global pulse survey revealed that 92% of the 129 respondent countries experienced some kind of disruption to services in the second half of last year. No major health area has been able to avoid negative impact, the survey found.

Australia saw a 7% jump in patients presenting to hospitals in the past year, increasing the wait time by nearly 30%. The pandemic took a toll on health systems around the world, leading to patient care and treatment being affected, with growing waitlists and waiting times, and overburdened care workers struggling to fill the gaps in an already understaffed sector that is facing increasing pressure to also maintain financial sustainability.

How does a sector with significant backlogs of waiting patients, resource and talent shortages, and difficulty attracting and retaining new talent dig itself out?

The WHO’s Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, said that in order to catch up on backlogged care we need to, among other things, invest in future health infrastructure. This sentiment was echoed by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the CBI conference last month where he had called for the public healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), to embrace automation to navigate challenges in the healthcare sector.

What is the problem with existing health infrastructure?

Legacy systems and infrastructures were seen as the greatest barriers to achieving positive patient experiences in the SS&C Blue Prism Global Healthcare Survey Report. Such systems create information siloes that obstruct healthcare workers’ ability to access information when they need it and to gain value-creating insights from free-moving data.

This leads to more errors due to manual data transfer and inefficient operations in an age when healthcare organisations are facing demands to do more for their patients with the same or even fewer resources.

Image: Supplied.

The pandemic spurred change across the sector

The COVID-19 pandemic forced most healthcare organisations (93%) to accelerate digitalisation plans. This left an indelible mark on the sector, with automation now a common feature of healthcare organisations’ strategy plans.

Most healthcare organisations are either considering or already have plans to roll out automation to overcome challenges from legacy systems and infrastructures, according to 70% of those at the director and manager levels.

The promise of intelligent automation

An intelligent automation (IA) platform, employed effectively, can help cut backlogs, get patients the care they deserve and enable staff from every department to be more productive by alleviating some of their workloads — mitigating burnout and creating space for more and better patient treatment and service.

Cases can be worked through faster by prioritising patient requests and processing queries that do not require manual input. Digital workers can attend to repetitive and error-prone tasks, allowing more cases to be processed as time is given back to health professionals.

Operations across organisations are enhanced as siloed operating systems that create double-work, inefficiencies and broken patient journeys are replaced with integrated systems and processes designed to use the right resource for the right outcome.

Process intelligence, as part of an IA platform, highlights organisations’ pain points so they can be improved to create further efficiencies. It also identifies processes ripe for automation, delivering immediate value in the form of greater patient care, supported healthcare workers, increased productivity and reduced operational costs. Errors are caught sooner, patient journeys are seamless and streamlined, bottlenecks are identified and addressed, revenue is boosted, turnaround times are faster and patient no-shows and unnecessary appointments are reduced.

Better patient care and experience with intelligent automation

With the help of IA, we have seen health organisations give their patients the care they deserve and protect their futures by creating built-in agility and better patient experiences.

IA enables hospitals and clinics to bring in digital workers — AI-fuelled software coupled with machine learning (ML) designed to model human roles — to execute rules-based tasks such as appointment bookings and referrals, freeing up healthcare practitioners’ time for better patient care and experience.

Virtual Blue, a New Zealand-based IT services and consulting firm, is leveraging intelligent automation to help healthcare organisations alleviate overworked healthcare staff and enhance patient experience. Sharyn Catt, Managing Director and Founder of Virtual Blue, said that they have helped to automate the e-referrals from different healthcare professionals across public hospitals and deployed digital workers in eligibility checks to see if patients qualify for free health care. These automations are helping free up time for the administrative staff to take on more value-based tasks.

In another example, Mercy Radiology Group, a New Zealand-based provider of diagnostic and interventional radiology services, has implemented intelligent automation coupled with machine learning algorithms to assist clinicians, particularly in the identification of lung nodules and fractures in scans.

Alexis Stewart, Director of Strategic Programmes at Mercy Radiology, said, “The ML algorithms study images and reports and flag any issues that a human worker has not yet discovered. The use of intelligent automation with ML enables clinicians to effectively triage scans and reporting.”

These examples illustrate the potential of IA to get healthcare systems back on track. Patient care can be put back at the heart of health care by creating self-service opportunities and helping staff cope with mounting workloads amid insufficient resources. Hospitals and health systems that adopt a digital-first strategy that encompasses an IA platform, artificial intelligence, interoperable analytics and other related advanced technologies will be driving towards the future of medicine. Underserved patients do not have time to wait — act soon, act now.

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