Automation frees doctors and staff to spend more time focused on patient care - MedCity News

None of us want to be replaced by a robot at work. But wait – what if we could give the pointless, repetitive parts of our jobs to a robot? That sounds a lot more appealing, and that’s what robotic process automation (RPA) was created for. Essentially, RPA automates rules-based business processes that can range from simple tasks like data entry to complex data extractions for EHR migration.

A recent study found that the average employee spends 60 hours per month on easily automated tasks. These include “hateful” tasks such as data entry, filing digital documents and compiling reports. A whopping 85% of respondents said they would be attracted to work for a company that invests in automation to reduce repetitive digital administration tasks. In another i study 70% of workers say automation’s biggest opportunity is in reducing time wasted on repetitive work.

So it’s no surprise that Gartner provided for RPA software revenue will reach $2.9 billion in 2022, up 19.5% from 2021. Organizations still have a lot of repetitive manual work that can be automated, freeing up employees to focus on more strategic work, says one of the researchers. Another driver is the push by software vendors to offer a set of tools that perform IT tasks like data mining in addition to automation.

With the endless need for reporting and data entry, hospitals are an ideal environment for RPA, especially with the administrative burnout we’re seeing at unprecedented levels in healthcare. According to a Addressing health workforce shortages report by Definitive Healthcare, nearly 334,000 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other clinicians have left the workforce in 2021 due to retirements, burnout and pandemic-related stressors.

Physicians suffered the biggest losses, with 117,000 professionals leaving the workforce in 2021, followed by nurse practitioners with 53,295 departures and physician assistants with 22,704 departures. About 22,000 physical therapists also left the health care workforce and 15,500 licensed clinical social workers.

“If hospitals want to stay ahead of their competition, they must embrace all that technology has to offer,” Jerry Adach said HealthTech Magazines. Adach is director of enterprise data and automation at Central Maine Healthcare, where he has implemented nearly 200 automated workflows. “Hospitals must be automated organizations and [RPA] platforms are able to explode with new capabilities,” he said, adding that he believes RPA can benefit clinical departments, supply chain, marketing and even plant maintenance departments.

RPA in the hospital setting

RPA excels at automating rule-based repetitive tasks such as standard reporting and data entry. It can also successfully digitize tasks that are prone to human error. In a clinical setting, this means scanning documents, checking access to patient records, processes notes, and processing patient admission and discharge records.

For those involved in billing and finance, RPA can help with insurance processing, electronic payment processes, tax-related tasks, creating new general ledger codes and writing off bad debts. For Human Resources, tasks such as payroll updates, new hire procedures, employee termination procedures, benefits processing, and authentication can be automated.

Hospital IT departments can use RPA for domain updates, system testing, system conversion, and system migrations. RPA can also be used to connect different systems, which is all too common in hospitals. RPA-scripted interfaces are ideal for cases where HL7 interfaces are not an option or are too expensive. RPA interfaces can be used for group interfaces, real-time interfaces, and interactive interfaces and can be deployed quickly to help with tight deadlines such as EHR upgrades.

The truth is, when it comes to repetitive tasks, robots outperform humans practically every time. For one thing, they work 24/7/365 without breaks. On the other hand, humans are error-prone, especially when tasks are mundane and contain large amounts of data and robots are not.

Benefits of RPA

Automation has been proven to deliver a return on investment within a year of implementation. A Deloitte study found that implementation resulted in improved compliance, improved quality/accuracy, improved productivity and reduced costs. An overwhelming number of surveyed companies (78%) say they expect a significant increase in RPA investment over the next three years.

Here are four main benefits of implementing RPA:

  1. Improved efficiency. Organizations can scale repetitive tasks, resulting in increased productivity and time and cost savings. A workflow used to streamline a process in one part of the organization can be reused in other areas of the business (with adjustments as needed).
  2. Improved quality. Automating tasks reduces the risk of errors by making the process more stable and efficient.
  3. Reduced waste. Labor costs are the obvious one here, but overworked employees spend a lot of time on workflows using paper and spreadsheets, and phone etiquette can be virtually eliminated through automated systems.
  4. Labor saving. Automated systems complete tasks in a fraction of the time it would take a human. They can also augment the human workforce during busy periods and
    leave of employees.

Speaking of labor, perhaps the best part of RPA is that employees quickly see the value. Instead of threatening their livelihoods, RPA takes away the worst parts of their jobs. Instead of boring, repetitive tasks like faxing paper, filing, preparing reports and data entry, employees are freed up to focus on more strategic, rewarding projects.

In most cases, healthcare organizations choose not to let employees go after implementing RPA. Instead, they reallocate their (human) resources where they can be put to better use, increasing employee satisfaction and alleviating staff burnout. When automation is used in clinical areas, it results in nurses and doctors being able to spend more time with patients.

In fact, as technology gets smarter, research shows that it is best used in relation to people. “The Secret of Making [smart technology] work is the very business model where machines and people are integrated to complement each other. Machines perform repetitive and automated tasks and will always be more precise and faster. However, these uniquely human skills such as creativity, caring, intuition, adaptability and innovation are increasingly imperative to success,” wrote the authors of a 2020 Harvard Business Review study.

In summary, as hospitals continue to look for ways to control costs and improve financial stability while improving employee satisfaction and patient outcomes, RPA can play an important role. With a quick return on investment and a warm reception from employees, these implementations can help reduce physician burnout and allow care providers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time focused on patient care.

Photo: Olivier Le Moal, Getty Images

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