Automation in Healthcare: What Can We Expect?

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Soumalaya Chakraborty

Among the industries impacted by COVID-19 since 2020, Healthcare would surely take pole position. The sector, already experiencing the benefits of digital innovations for some time, suddenly was thrust into a situation where transformation had to happen at any cost! From a steady, largely predictable number of patients to attend to, the facilities suddenly found themselves overwhelmed and the existing human personnel, grossly inadequate. This brought about a rise in virtual healthcare, and the use of data analytics for interoperability. The healthcare market which was valued at 187.60 billion US dollars in 2019 is estimated to reach 390.70 billion US dollars by 2024 growing at a CAGR of 15.8%. Amid the socio-economic developments, public-private collaborations have seen an unprecedented rise challenging the stakeholders involved at various levels in the medicare department to adapt, evolve and change.

Amongst these hurdles, many organizations rose to adapt and embrace the most efficient technology to combat the situation – automation. Keeping in mind the targets of minimizing cost and increasing efficiency, many forms of automation such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation), CA (Cognitive Automation), and others came to the forefront. Following are a few examples of such implementations across industries:

i) Using software robots to automate inventory management

A general care hospital in Europe with over 2000 employees and 300,000 outpatients annually faced a crisis in maintaining its operational infrastructure with the increasing workload of the incoming client base. An IT company built a solution for them using RPA to streamline a portion of these processes by maintaining digital records and reducing front office desk load. The reengineering of the process led to a regulation of optimal inventory levels creating easier billing and claims procedures reducing the processing cost significantly. 

ii) Attaining transactional efficiency for Max Healthcare 

Max Healthcare in north India faced issues in the manual processing of the transactions given the large number of patients visiting the hospital and the requirements of accuracy. An RPA enterprise used robots to automate the areas of claims processing and data reconciliation. The platform extracted customer-related information and the robots logged into the URL portal to fetch transaction records and validate the entries. As a result, a significant reduction in turn-around time with improved security, compliance, and customer experience was achieved.

How automation can benefit the Healthcare industry?

A study from Deloitte emphasizes the three most important factors namely, Compliance, Control, and Capacity when it comes to automation, where compliance eradicates the need for error-prone manual dependencies, control amplifies visibility in management, and capacity brings a transformative change in tedious tasks. Almost all the mundane tasks like filling forms, extracting data, logging in the applications can have automated robots incorporated in the workflow to improve efficiency and relieving employees to attend critical activities. RPA along with natural language processing can audio-record conversations during prescriptions and diagnosis to create readable health narratives to be analyzed for future decision making. Risk mitigation and fraud detection can also be done through automation as the robots amalgamate data from various sources and flag a potential billing risk. With better turn-around time, inventory management, and less labor-intensive procedures, implementing automation gives a significant competitive advantage and better ROIs.

What are the technologies involved and the best practices?

Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning play an important role when it comes to implementing automation technology. Intelligent Process Automation is highly beneficial for leveraging RPA and the use of public-private Cloud, Data Analytics, as well as Integration, is also on the rise. When it comes to revenue cycle management and claims denial, an IPA approach along with a denial analytics dashboard built on AI is a step towards the next level. 

Reduction of price variation and maximization of product use is where integration of data analytics along with AI comes into play. Automation of supply chain management along with the revenue cycle is a good practice to follow. It is very important in the adoption and implementation of technology, that a customized platform as per an organization’s specific needs is selected. Using Cloud with the catalysis of AI and ML, identification and prioritization is something that healthcare providers can look forward to while choosing the optimal automation technique.

What does the future look like for automation?

As we are moving towards a more personalized experience for the customers in healthcare, the trajectory for automation is more nuanced. Let us look what are the key developments in the future of automation :

  • Where RPA uses AI to derive efficiency, cognitive automation and computing are bent towards machine learning, natural language processing, and optical character recognition to achieve results. This can help in defining product strategies, maintaining provider networks, profound patient engagement, and pricing and risk management.
  • CA along with Cloud is the next step in this direction. Using this combination, data extracted from mails and emails can be rerouted to queues and help regulate the system. A cognitive bot that performs corpus analysis can automatically generate meaningful insights and capabilities.
  • Apart from CA, real-time screening for automated clinical trials is also in the pipeline which determines a patient’s suitability for clinical trial enrolment.
  • In the arena of e-mental health interventions, fully automated avatars for psychological therapy where communication with an autonomous virtual therapist is set up to promote exploration and expression of clinical identity is also set to be developed in the future.
  • Real-time medical transcriptions, a version of which is already released in the market, is also catching up with the pace and with the help of bots for transcription, an advanced version will be available soon.

Getting Started with Automation:

For an organization on the fence about implementing automation or in the early stages of implementation, the prospect of what could change and how it could impact processes that have been in place for long could be daunting. However, the good news is, business leaders don’t have to figure everything out themselves. Let’s discuss a few of the steps involved and how one can make the right strategic choices for their business.

Phase 1: Identify Opportunities

This involves carrying out a thorough audit of all the processes currently in place and figuring out which among them could benefit the most from automation. One needs to identify workflows that are repetitive and time-consuming, as the primary candidates and do a cost analysis to understand how much they can save by transitioning.

Phase 2: Work with a Trusted Digital Transformation Agency

Once the processes have been shortlisted by the management, it’s time to decide whether to go about planning and implementing by themselves or choose a partner with a proven track record of success. If this is something new to the business and they do not have a team in place with the required skills, it is advisable to look for a company with experience in end-to-end digital healthcare services as that will take a lot of overheads off their plate, help them reduce major expenses, and avoid delays. Also, they will have the confidence of getting a robust, secure product.

Phase 3: Pre-production

In this phase, businesses need to work with their digital transformation partners to figure out the right approach to automating the identified processes. This is where the technologies will be discussed, the solution will take shape, and stakeholders will have greater clarity on the efficiency of the process, data points that will be tracked and analyzed, and how the solution can scale to keep delivering value.

Phase 4: Development and Pilot

Adopting the agile methodology, companies should plan to release proofs of concept so the idea and strategy can be validated in real-world scenarios. This stage will focus on continuous data collection to keep improving the solution, implementation of security measures, testing, and gradually arriving at the production version.

Phase 5: Release and Maintenance

Once the organization has implemented all the major features, polished the solution with feedback gained from data analysis and user reviews, and ensured stability and security, it’s time to roll it out and complete its first step towards digital transformation!

Post-release, the management should keep a close eye on the KPIs, work on the roadmap created in phase 2 and identify new ways to make the solution even better. Once again, the digital innovations partner can help with all the live-ops support businesses would need.

Conclusion:

With the growing consumer preferences and rapid technological changes, it is only smart to incorporate technical advancements no matter which sector of the market we are dealing with. Electronic Health Records are slowly becoming the core of the pharmaceutical industry. Automation can leverage digital data to streamline operations and predict future vulnerabilities to improve the overall patient experience and bring a positive impact on revenue at all levels. Optimization of interoperability in the healthcare sector where the element of life criticality is high, there is a huge scope of development as to what automation and AI can achieve in the future.

Author Bio:

Soumalaya Chakraborty: Soumalaya is a digital marketing manager at [x]cube LABS and loves to craft creative branding and outreach strategies. He also loves reading and writing about the latest developments in technology, customer experience transformation, healthcare IT consulting, and more. While not at work, Soumalaya enjoys playing video games and catching up on the latest and greatest on Netflix.

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