The climate for healthcare organizations is a challenging one, with healthcare costs expected to rise by 6.5% over the next year. Between tighter compliance regulations, increased competition, and tighter budgets, HDOs have to do everything possible to reduce costs and streamline healthcare delivery processes.
Healthcare automation is one of the key strategies in this journey. There are multiple ways that it could drastically decrease expenditure and improve efficiency at the same time.
- Automated scheduling and process mapping can maximize care capacity and optimizes resource allocation;
- Automated appointment reminders could prevent last minute cancelations — which costs one hospital nearly $1.5 million annually;
- Computer-enabled dosage oversight could improve outcomes while saving up to $16 billion annually.
Automation can reduce staffing costs, improve compliance, and significantly speed up the billing and payment cycle — improving revenue flow and reducing non-payment for HDOs. In fact, by 2026, AI automation in healthcare is predicted to save HDOs up to $150 billion annually.
The advantages of automation go beyond financial benefits. Fewer overdoses means fewer fatalities. Automated data entry lessens the risk of errors and improves patient confidentiality. Automated data analysis can run in the background to accelerate and improve the accuracy of diagnoses while offering a more personalized course of treatment. Finally, by automating clerical and administrative tasks, healthcare professionals gain more time to focus on the more skilled, specialized, and valuable aspects of their work.
The Healthcare Conundrum
With so many benefits to healthcare automation and so much pressure to streamline processes and reduce costs, you’d expect to find it in every hospital. But that’s far from the case.
Although the industry as a whole is eager to embrace automation, it faces a number of obstacles:
- Many HDOs expect healthcare automation to solve all their problems, leading them to fail to invest in the skilled staff and preliminary steps needed to take full advantage of its potential. When healthcare automation is seen as a silver bullet, it’s likely to disappoint. Interestingly, this pitfall isn’t really unique to healthcare. A fascinating case study on the trap of this thinking and the struggle to break free from it can be observed in the roll out of Tesla Motors’ Model 3.
- HDOs struggle to identify the most appropriate use cases for automation. Get it wrong and you not only fail to best serve your organization in the short term, but you undermine enthusiasm for automation projects in the long term.
- In an HDO setting, there are typically more stakeholders who need to buy into an automation program in order to get the project rolling — creating a long and tiresome ordeal of explanation and demonstration to win support.
- Automation solutions tend to over-promise and under-deliver, either not working as described or requiring so much set up and custom configuration that the time saved on the task itself is often lost in the preparations.
- Fear and distrust of automation tends to be especially pronounced in healthcare environments, where the stakes are naturally much higher and the potential consequences of an error much graver.
The best way for HDOs to cut through the challenges of effective healthcare automation is to follow these best practices.
3 Best Practices for Successful Healthcare Automation
1. Incremental implementation
Begin by outlining those aspect of your operation that would deliver the greatest ROI if automated.
Of course, you may well not know ahead of time where the greatest ROI lies, which is why it always makes sense to take a cautious approach — wading into the shallow water rather than taking a dive off the deep end.
Until you successfully prove the concept and make sure that your efforts and being invested where they’ll yield the greatest returns, you don’t want to go all-in or tie yourself to any particular solution. You also don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Incremental implementation should help you sidestep the pitfall of over-hyped or overly complicated solutions, while you move to systematically and selectively foster and build on successes.
Make sure to automate processes gradually. This is especially important if, like many HDOs, you have a shortage of skilled IT staff able to implement automation. By introducing change in a controlled way, you can expand roll-out incrementally once users have been trained in the initial steps and employees are familiar with the process. This will improve confidence in the program and reduce the forces of inertia resisting the change.
2. Target the low-hanging fruit
As part of your incremental introduction of healthcare automation, it’s important to begin by going after the low-hanging fruit — where, without undue complexity, automation can be straight-forwardly used to streamline and enhance processes. These are primarily tasks that have multiple steps, involve many users, are time-sensitive, and require transparency. Perfectly suited tasks for automation will also take a considerable amount of time to tackle manually even though none of the component steps are particularly difficult.
Data entry and data sharing between systems and departments often present the most fertile ground to cultivate for automation. According to McKinsey, over 50% of data entry, collection, and processing tasks can be automated. Automating these tasks reduces human errors, breaks down silos, increases data integration, and fosters a culture of free flowing information and professional collaboration across the organization. Indeed, automation is in many ways just the first stone on the path to greater organizational transformation in the model of “HealthOps”.
Management and processes that require a lot of configuration could also provide a good testing ground. Accordingly, IT and cybersecurity workflows lend themselves nicely to healthcare automation initiatives.
54% of organizations admit to having ignored security alerts because they didn’t have the time or resources to investigate. Take a moment to let that sink in. More often than not, even when threats are successfully noted, they're still ignored. With such feeble security practices, its only a matter of time until vulnerable organizations feel the pain of data breech or digital disturbance.
This common failure is the product of a vicious cycle. Security teams spend so much time cleaning up messes that they're seldom free to work on preventing such messes to begin with. Case in point, 35% of SecOps teams say that gathering data relevant to a security breach takes up the majority of their time.
Automation can begin tackling these problems from both sides — reviewing alerts and enacting straight-forward, rule-based mitigations where suitable* and scraping relevant data around security events — giving human talent more time and tools with which to fortify defenses proactively and respond to incidents more decisively.
The parameterization and architectural implementation of VLANs, ACLs, or SGTs based on intended endpoint usage/functionality and risk factors can also benefit from automation. Here, automation could not only save an abundance of time but profoundly improve your security posture and technological resilience — especially when processed in part with machine learning.
3. Add value without interfering
It’s important to look for ways that healthcare automation will add value to your existing workflows without interfering with the way that they run. Successful early-stage automation should feel like having a good personal assistant — carrying out clerical work that would otherwise take up your valuable time. Effective healthcare automation helps keep you on task and on time.
Similarly, good automation will provide an extra set of eyes to review and refine everything that crosses its path.
When you begin introducing healthcare automation to your organization, you should seek ways to add passive documentation to as many workflow tasks as possible. Some smart use cases include:
- Onboarding new employees
- Delivering ongoing training
- Carrying out data collection and analysis for performance reviews, as well as promoting a culture of personal accountability
- Overseeing version control and change management
- Demonstrating compliance
Successful Healthcare Automation is Within Reach
Healthcare automation can deliver dramatic benefits to all healthcare organizations, including streamlining processes, reducing costs, strengthening cybersecurity, increasing efficiency, and improving patient care.
HDOs face many obstacles on the path to automation, but gradual implementation, reaching for the low-hanging fruit, and looking for ways to add value to existing workflows are key to successfully unlocking added capacity and increasing productivity.
In the event that such programmatic logic would be incapable of encapsulating and smartly reacting to the complexity of a given alert, the automation solution would simply escalate the matter to the attention of the relevant human manager.