Robotic process automation in health care


By Daniel Pullen*
Monday, 14 September, 2020



Robotic process automation in health care

Digitisation has skyrocketed lately, as companies all over the world try to find new ways of compensating for the issues brought about by remote work. Customer interactions and internal operations have ‘gone under the spell’ of automation technologies even more so than before the pandemic.

Resilience has trumped efficiency as the meta-goal that businesses strive for in some cases, and robotic process automation (RPA) is a key factor promoting it. This is the case across the industry spectrum, but we will focus on one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic outbreak: health care.

Many pharma R&D companies have leveraged automation to support clinical testing for vaccine development and accelerate data processing. The hospital system managed to balance demand and supply to optimise the huge surge in the need for protective equipment. Healthcare providers relied on RPA to support claims and revenue management despite the discharge of more than half the back-office staff.

In fact, Bain & Company research finds that as many as 81% of healthcare companies have used automation acceleration in response to COVID-19, trying to optimise overall costs and to deal with challenges like hospital backlogs, increasingly scarce resources and an influx in demands.

Even before the pandemic, the 2020 Gartner CIO Survey showed that 41% of healthcare provider CIOs experienced a funding shortfall. Operating cost pressure increased even more with the arrival of the pandemic. This is a good justification for Gartner’s estimations that while only 5% of healthcare companies currently invest in RPA, in three years’ time, half of them will do so.

The benefits of RPA in health care

How can RPA contribute to cost optimisation in health care? First of all, a software robot’s cost is a fraction of that of a human employee and creates more time for teams to spend on higher-value tasks.

The automation of ubiquitous tasks such as staffing an IT help desk, physician credentialing and verifying insurance eligibility speeds up workflow execution while drastically reducing the rate of error. The faster service allows better management of the high volume of testing requests and gives the opportunity of significant savings that can be reinvested.

Additionally, bots can efficiently respond to patient requests, allowing the patient flow to work in favour of both the patient and the clinic. Along the same lines, orders for necessities can be filled and entered into SAP much faster. RPA also increases data confidentiality, since data transmission via automated processes is confidential by default. And let’s not forget about the help for call centres, which ensures that accurate patient data can be obtained faster, facilitating the call triage process.

In accordance with our practice-oriented approach to technologically supported business, we believe that the best way to understand the role of RPA in health care during the coronavirus pandemic is to look at some examples of leveraging software robots after the outbreak. Let’s see how automation has helped others to manage the influx of demands brought about by COVID-19…

Cases where RPA has been adopted in health care during the pandemic

  • The Infection Prevention and Control Department of The Mater Hospital in Dublin used the support of UiPath’s attended robots in order to deal more easily with the heavy administrative burden posed by the need to track the massive amount of COVID-19 test requests. Software robots were able to process the testing kits much faster than their human counterparts. Each nurse had their own robot to do the paperwork, which resulted in savings of three hours per day. Consequently, the medical staff were able to dedicate more of their time to actually caring for patients. Paradoxically, the use of robots makes healthcare services more human.
     
  • A large hospital in the US — the Cleveland Clinic — used attended robots to help with administrative tasks such as adding new patients, accurately recording their data and reporting it to the CDC. This drastically reduced the uncompleted work and saved around 8–9 minutes per patient. Moreover, an additional source of hassle — namely the errors in data transcription and processing — has been completely eliminated.
     
  • Hand sanitiser continues to be an essential product during the pandemic. The influx of orders to a Chinese hygienic company rose tenfold, making it impossible to keep processing the orders in SAP. To help the company better cope with the spike in demand, 20 unattended software robots became team members.
     
  • The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin received much-needed help from software robots to automate reporting of COVID-19 test results. The bots logged into the hospital’s laboratory system, wrote down the correct disease code and then input the test result. By doing this, the hospital saved three hours of work per day and the medical personnel gained more time for human-to-human interaction with patients. Operational efficiency skyrocketed and so did the staff’s job satisfaction, even during these trying times.
     
  • The role of RPA during the pandemic has also been very visible in the HR departments of healthcare companies. The shortage of healthcare workers made it necessary to make numerous hirings and/or to record details of retired physician volunteers in a limited amount of time. Consider background checks, credential verification and onboarding — software robots can run the checks, enter the data into HR systems, notify the relevant departments about candidates awaiting onboarding and even assign volunteers to job areas. The average time to process volunteers reduced from five days to four hours and the manual data input was reduced by 35%.

According to a McKinsey report, the automation potential of health care is 36% — more than one out of three daily healthcare tasks are automatable. This allows companies to focus resources on frontline healthcare delivery. Automation appears to be a win–win situation for both healthcare providers and patients: enhanced efficiency and lower costs for improved, more direct and human patient care.

During this pandemic, RPA should be fully exploited to reduce the effects of physical and psychological fatigue on medical personnel.

For further information on how Australian companies are using RPA and what their future automation plans are, read on. We’ve interviewed more than 2000 leaders and captured their answers in insightful statistics in our Thought Leaders Survey whitepaper.

*Daniel Pullen is the co-founder and Chief Automation Officer of CiGen, one of the first dedicated robotic process automation companies based in Australia. Daniel is passionate about intelligent automation, robotics automation consulting and bringing the benefits of digital robotics into the workplace.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Production Perig

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