Things have changed drastically for the healthcare sector over the last few months. At this time of heightened stress and anxiety, it’s vital that doctors’ and nurses’ time is freed up for patients wherever possible – not just now, but for the future too. As Chris Duddridge, MD of UiPath for UK and Ireland, discusses in this article, necessity is the birth of invention, as they say, and has now seen the doors to healthcare opened wider for the technology industry than ever before.
With the pressures the global pandemic has put on healthcare systems, healthcare is now more closely interwoven than ever before with the tech sector. That’s because there are huge opportunities for technology to ease operations, freeing up frontline workers for enhanced patient care and taking the strain off hospitals and medical institutions, as they continue to process huge amounts of more routine patient data in addition to Covid-19 specific information.
This is where RPA – Robotic Process Automation – can particularly help. RPA drastically reduces the amount of time staff spend on repetitive and routine activities – from appointment scheduling and patient account creation and verification, to file handling and inventory and test management.
Medical staff spend almost half their time solving backlogs and handling administrative tasks on (often archaic) computer systems and other applications. RPA has been proven to take the system administrators out of our doctors and nurses, freeing them up to be caregivers. RPA also supports healthcare by utilising the large volumes of data gathered to improve the quality of information, for better medical decision-making.
The opportunities for RPA in healthcare
The healthcare sector, in particular the NHS, has been crying out for technological evolution for years – but this evolution has been held back by a myriad of factors, including implementation cost, existing infrastructure and legacy systems. However, such evolution could make the difference between health services keeping pace with the UK’s changing demographics and evolving into a provider fit for the technological age – or failing altogether.
Following years of pressure and warnings that health services are becoming less and less able to cope with even routine demands, recent staff shortages related to COVID-19 are now a stark challenge to our healthcare system. It’s perhaps these warnings and considerations that have spiked the recent adoption boom of digital and automation technologies that analysts have observed across a wide range of industries – from healthcare to insurance – as organisations get to grips with the challenges of COVID-19 and the lockdown. That’s because RPA can help boost operational growth and create a positive patient experience by increasing control and eliminating redundancies.
The results of RPA in healthcare
There are several recent use-cases where RPA has played, and is playing, a key role in bettering patient care and making a tangible difference to operations.
Mater Hospital, Ireland
An automation project with Mater Hospital in Dublin has provided medical staff with their own software robot to free up nurses dealing with infection control, including Covid-19. These robots now carry out much of the admin-based tasks related to the patient testing and reporting that nurses previously had to undertake, meaning they can spend around 50% more time on the frontline with patients who are battling coronavirus. The robots have also sped up the process of testing for the virus, meaning patients can be informed of their diagnosis much quicker, helping to combat the spread.
Cleveland Clinic, US
The testing of patients for COVID-19 in America sped up dramatically amid protocol requiring that a patient is registered, and test kits are correctly labelled. To cope with the huge demand, Cleveland Clinic deployed a robot that can analyse patient data, register them and correctly label the test kit that they require. It completes this process in around 15 seconds.
Swiftqueue, the cloud-based scheduling platform for healthcare, is using an unattended automation solution to bridge its patient engagement system with the multiple data storing systems each hospital uses. Implemented across Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada, the platform is starting to be used to schedule patients for multiple outpatient and diagnostic clinic appointments – representing huge savings in many countries, where hospital appointments are still made by post and patients are only able to reschedule by phone. In Ireland, for example, hospitals spend EUR €2.25 for each appointment, while a digitalised approach will only amount to EUR €0.45.
Another crucial aspect of this partnership between UiPath and Swiftqeue is that software robots will greatly reduce the time it will take for hospitals across UK and Ireland to process a huge backlog of patient appointments unlinked to COVID-19, once the pandemic is under control. Other examples of customers using automation to respond to drastic shifts in demand – with COVID-19 being the catalyst – are being observed too.
The future of RPA in healthcare
As patient numbers grow – and in the wake of the lockdown, as healthcare providers attempt to return to normal – these organisations will continue to face challenges in managing levels of inventory, supporting digitisation of patient files and optimising appointment scheduling, processing filing or claims processing. Healthcare is predicted to have a 36% automation potential, meaning that more than a third of healthcare tasks – especially managerial, back-office functions – could be automated, allowing healthcare providers to offer more direct, value-based patient care at lower costs and increased efficiency.
Automation holds great potential to improve the quality of health and patient care currently delivered. Any task or process that is repetitive, time-consuming, requires little decision-making or no human interaction is suitable for automation. In a nutshell, many of the tasks that GP practices, hospitals and walk-in centres deal with on a daily basis can be automated, to free up resource for front-line healthcare delivery.
Now more than ever we need to double down on our efforts to support the people and services that give so much back to us all. We are so grateful to have the healthcare systems we have across the UK & Ireland, their preservation and support is of paramount importance to us all. I am certainly a firm believer that RPA and automation is doing its part to readdress the balance of care vs. admin work.