From improving patient experience to enhancing medical procedures, technology functions as the engine driving the healthcare system forward.
Intelligent automation has played a key role in a technological re-imagining of healthcare; streamlining digitization, accelerating processes, and introducing otherwise impossible efficiencies. Among other things, this means that patients receive better care as staff hands are freed from more clerical, less human facing work.
Here are a few specific points of impact through which healthcare process automation is changing industry norms.
Greater Diagnostic Precision
These days it seems that everyone's favorite example of automation in healthcare has to do radiology and improved interpretation of medical images. I get it. It's a sexy example. It not only picks up the automation thread, but adds in artificial intelligence — a real crowd pleaser and imagination grabber in its own right. Add in the potential to save lives and reduce false positives and the appeal can hardly be denied.
Studies conducted by the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany have confirmed the value of automation in processing medical scan results. According to the study, the technology offers more accurate diagnoses quicker.
Obviously knowing what does or doesn't afflict a patient is vital to effective treatment, but in cases where time is of the essence and early intervention is critical, the increased processing speed can also make a difference (especially when used in conjunction with smart scheduling and management tools that meaningfully cut down on wait times).
At the same time, automating healthcare processes in this way is far from widespread. Most such applications are still in some stage of testing and development, and used in conjunction with or supervised by humans. This stymies the realization of the full value potential of such technologies. What's more, the technology itself is still very new and can be hard for hospitals to get their hands on and to incorporate into normal operations. On top of that, there remains a trust gap; these technologies will need to be exhaustively proven to perform well beyond the standards of human alternatives before patients, administrators, and regulators are willing to fully unleash them.
So while there may be no doubt that next-gen medical image parsing is the sexiest example of healthcare automation in action today, it's by no means the most common or even the most impactful. For that, one should look to less ambitious but more practical examples used to improved the patient experience and practice productivity.
Enhancing the Patient Experience
Patient satisfaction is an essential aspect of any healthcare system and is comprised of a number of factors; chief among which are the following:
- The level of care the patient receives when visiting an organization.
- The ease and accessibility of scheduling and attending appointments.
- The total time an appointment takes, including waiting time.
By automating healthcare processes, organizations are changing and improving the patient experience. Appointment scheduling software, for example, can be implemented to send patients an electronic invitation to reschedule appointments that have been missed, while other, more advanced software gives patients the freedom to schedule appointments at their convenience. This enables patients to see all appointment possibilities and gives them the freedom to pick a time slot that is most convenient for them.
Scheduling software is automated to update in real-time to avoid scheduling conflicts with the provider. This means, healthcare organizations that operate with scheduling automation can schedule and cancel appointments easier and with greater efficiency than their competitors.
Similar to appointment scheduling software, appointment reminder software can also be implemented to enhance the patient experience. Appointment reminder software sends reminders to patients in a timely fashion to help prevent no-show appointments.
This software can send as many or as few appointment reminders as a practice sees fit to ensure that patients are at their appointments, on-time, or arriving early to fill out the necessary paperwork. Reminders go a long way; when patients are busy in their day-to-day lives, it can be easy to forget about appointments they made months ago. Automated reminder software helps ensure that both the patient and the healthcare provider adhere to their set schedule.
On the HDO side, a similar example can be found in the Surgimate software solution that automatically consolidates workflows and optimizes the multi-stakeholder management processes around scheduling surgeries.
At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that these automation technologies offer only trivial advantages, but you would be sorely mistaken. In an industry with operating margins as thin as hospitals, it's all a matter of efficiency, and the day is routinely won (or lost) at the margins. For most hospitals, the cumulative impact of dead time spent waiting, coordinating, and being canceled on is actually huge.
In fact, it's estimated that eliminating of these sorts of inefficiencies would translate to annual savings in the amount of $140 billion; making it a perfect example of how automating healthcare processes, even ostensibly trivial processes, meaningfully drives the industry forward.
Improving Practice Productivity
Healthcare is not without its fair share of tedious, clerical work along the lines of data entry and filing. In most cases, these types of tasks will offer the lowest hanging fruit for automation.
Here are some examples:
- Patient intake documentation
- Appointment scheduling/notification
- Compliance demonstration
- Inventory management
- Patient tracking
- Shift planning/management
Automation is improving practice productivity in the same fashion that it is enhancing the patient experience. Healthcare professionals can cut a significant amount of routine tasks from their busy days and focus on their more skilled work — reducing burnout, increasing professional satisfaction, and boosting productivity.
Of course, there's just as much room for automation in healthcare administration as there is in healthcare operations — though the applications aren't always as obvious.
A prime example of automation in healthcare administration is digital support. Digital support, sometimes referred to as a digital workforce, can bring an extra pair of eyes and a deep knowledge base to administrative tasks. It can come in the form of a training wizard for staff or a troubleshooting recommendation engine to resolve technical problem quicker and without adding to the strains on IT.
Digital support software can be developed (or purchased) to automatically collate and format data for fixed-interval reporting, or to create chatbots that answer frequently asked questions, collect patient feedback, or even just engage patients to ward off loneliness and improve health outlooks.
Data Access and Transfers
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a type of process automation being implemented throughout the healthcare industry. As healthcare systems modernize and move from paper records or outdated systems to more dynamic digital management hubs, RPA is key to helping medical centers manage the transition. This can include digitizing paper records, using OCR to convert scanned image files to readable text files, extracting data from those files and transferring them to EHR file structures, or migrating data from one system to another quickly and easily and without human errors.
Not only is patient data efficiently transferable with RPA, but it can also be optimized for analysis, leading to improved care outcomes.
Revenue Cycle Management
While the decision to automate healthcare processes is usually seen as an upfront investment that will pay increasing dividends over time, that doesn't mean that automation can't also pad your bottom line with quick wins. Building automation into your billing processes, for example, is a relatively easy way to improve collection rates.
Automation can handle a lot of the heavy lifting involved in Revenue Cycle Management (RCM); not only in running through the different branches of a complex task tree quickly and without mistakes or omissions, but in streamlining the planning process and ensuring compliance across all activities. Ultimately, automating some aspects of your RCM will improve cash flow while reducing overhead administrative costs and relieving headaches.
The Upshot of Automating Healthcare Processes
By automating healthcare processes, hospitals can enhance clinical precision, reduce human error, improve patient satisfaction, and increase practice productivity. In so doing, they'll also be able to offload a considerable amount of their staff's clerical responsibilities — freeing them up to focus on their more highly skilled work. Ultimately, these benefits should come together to not only improve a medical center's profitability, but to upgrade the quality and timeliness of care.
Far from a futuristic fascination or a matter of science-fiction, hospitals are constantly finding more and more ways to implement automation. In other words, automating healthcare processes is the new normal, and if you're not already, it's time you get on board.