50% of Healthcare Providers Report Plans to Invest in RPA
50% of Healthcare Providers Report Plans to Invest in RPA
Robotic Process Automation in Digital Health
In a recent Gartner survey, 50% of healthcare providers reported they will be investing in RPA over the next 3 years, what is RPA and how will it be used?
When half of an industry reports plans to make significant investments in a particular type of technology, you tend to take notice. At least we did at Technossus since we specialize in developing software applications with automation including RPA. I thought this would be a great time to interview our resident expert and Sr. Client Partner -Healthcare, Melinda Wagner, to get her take on what this means for innovation in digital health in general.
Good morning Melinda. I’m sure you read the 2021 Gartner report on healthcare providers’ planned use of RPA over the next 3 years, so I was wondering if you could help me and our blog readership understand a little more about RPA and its potential applications to improve digital health for providers.
Hi, sure thing. We’ve been automating for a long time starting with EHRs and then rules engines. The next level is robotic process automation (RPA), a noninvasive integration technology, orchestrated through UI used to digitalize manual, repetitive tasks with ‘bots’ or digital workers. The platforms are generally low code – no code platforms resulting in low effort – high impact process improvements. Assisted Bots are deployed on a desktop with a human completing part of the task while the bot completes the cumbersome parts. Unassisted bots are deployed centrally and run independently completing an end-to-end task.
Intelligent automation, the next tier in the automation journey, includes things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and intelligent OCR. Ultimately the goal is to achieve hyper-automation with a toolkit of solutions that meet an organization’s overall digital transformation goals.
Why is automation gaining so much traction in the wake of COVID?
Primarily because of rising costs and labor shortages. COVID certainly left a wake of financial problems for the health systems as noted by the multiple headlines on systems suffering hundreds of millions of dollars in FY losses. It is equally important to acknowledge that many, if not all, of those problems, were brewing pre-COVID to one degree or another. COVID was the tipping point where many systems had to rapidly change their way of doing business. In that sense, COVID has been a catalyst for perhaps some of the most creative problem-solving we have had in a long time.
Healthcare already had a growing staffing shortage and burnout problem pre-pandemic, but it became exponentially worse at a time when demand exploded. The cost of doing business was too high before COVID but rising supply and resourcing costs coupled with shrinking profitable services made it dramatically worse. Through acquisition and mergers, economies of scale have not necessarily materialized or had to be put on hold for two years. Consumer frustration with access to care was already escalating in some cases and trust in the system has been declining. The impact of regulations, both as a burden on the staff and targeting margins, is also not new.
The staffing shortage noted as the top problem for CEOs in ACHE’s annual survey, may be the biggest trigger for interest in automation, leaders need to unburden their people and help bring joy back to the workplace. A well-orchestrated automation strategy can be a game changer in increasing revenue, reducing costs, eliminating errors, and perhaps most importantly, reducing mundane work so employees can spend their time on high-value work they enjoy. The technology continues to improve, but most important the willingness to prioritize automation has changed. It has become a necessity. The stigma of “bots will take my job” has shifted to “I need help”.
What type of tasks are providers automating?
Not every process can or should be automated but the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) estimates that 33% of administrative processes in healthcare could be automated so the opportunity is tremendous across the enterprise. Revenue Cycle is a common area rich with opportunities, in fact, HFMA published several articles in their September magazine depicting successes from multiple systems. But don’t stop at RCM, there are opportunities in literally every part of the organization. In IT, for example, bots are doing testing to reduce the time and errors in code upgrades and also help with system migrations. In HR you can use bots to help on and off-board employees or manage benefits enrollment. In finance, you can reduce the manual work to close each month. Truly, ask your employees “if I gave you an assistant what tasks could you offload?” and the ideas will likely start flowing. The challenge isn’t finding tasks to automate, it is creating an enterprise approach to manage all the bots and community developers to ensure continued success rather than one-off projects.
Some of the questions we ask to help narrow down the best candidates are:
- What problem are you trying to solve and how will you measure it?
- How long does the task take, how many people perform it and how often is it required?
- Is the task prone to errors?
- Are there multiple work groups involved?
- What systems are involved?
- Have you optimized the process and is it documented?
Really what you want to look for are stable, repetitive, time-intensive tasks that are not overly complex but will have real qualitative, quantitative, and operational impacts. You don’t want to go in thinking I am going to automate this whole process, look at the painful tasks within a given workflow that a human really doesn’t need to do. Think big but start small and learn as you go.
Why is automation at the enterprise level so important?
Getting to intelligent automation is a learning journey, that should start with the less complex and expand toward the more complex. The objective is to thoughtfully exhaust the capabilities of each tool and then add more sophisticated tools as they are truly needed to ultimately achieve hyper-automation. If every business area is taking its own approach toward automation and buying its own tools the organization will waste time, money, and resources just maintaining an army of disparate platforms. In addition, your teams will struggle to hone their skills to build and support the bots. We also see a tendency for bursts of excitement about automation, but if there isn’t a strategy, it often gets dropped. Think about all the pilot projects you have seen that never quite get fully adopted even if they are wildly successful, you need a governing structure to drive a successful automation journey to realize the potential benefits it can bring an organization.
We recommend laying the foundation by standing up a strong Center of Excellence and starting with a single platform before adding specialized tools. That’s not to say organizations have not been wildly successful just focusing on a single business area like revenue cycle, but if your goal is to achieve system-wide automation success, we recommend starting with that end in mind.
CoE can also help create structure in how you select what opportunities to pursue and manage a strong developer community that can deliver demonstrable KPIs. One reason programs lose funding is a lack of measurable impact. With a CoE, you have a governing body holding everyone accountable.
Thank you, Melinda, for breaking this down and helping us understand what an exciting time this is in digital health innovation.
For more information on Technossus’ capabilities in RPA, AI, and Machine Learning enabled automations specifically suited for healthcare providers, please visit our page on Automation, RPA, & ML.
For more on Melinda Wagner, MBA, MS, BSN, RN, FACHE, please view her profile link on LinkedIn.