DIGITAL INTERACTIVE SERVICES
A Look at How Automation Can Power the Healthcare Industry’s Future
Keeping pace with advances in healthcare is no cakewalk. Healthcare providers throughout the world try to use the best technologies and drugs available to heal their patients. However, hospital administrators and medical professionals spend a lot of time also on repetitive and time-consuming tasks. To boost efficiency and meet the needs of patients, the healthcare industry must leverage technology and automation to a greater extent.
Amongst many lessons, the COVID-19 pandemic showed the world the potential of using technology to build a robust healthcare system. On the other hand, it also laid bare many flaws in the existing systems.
Leveraging technology to automate systems and deliver healthcare is an ongoing process. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have been making quite an impact on all aspects of patient processes: scheduling appointments, clinical assessments, diagnosis, billing, prescriptions and follow-up care. However, the healthcare industry in general has been a little slower than other industries to adopt all the available technologies.
The primary requirement of an automated process is that it works without human intervention. Intelligent automation involves making use of technologies such as AI, robotic process automation (RPA) and business process management RPA to improve functioning and efficiency of an organization. Healthcare facilities, medical professionals and researchers use automation at various times during their work to analyze patient and operations data in an effort to improve the quality of care and to lower costs.
Running a healthcare facility involves numerous workflows: case management, patient wellness, remote monitoring, managing and coordinating with employees and much more.
Manually managing all these workflows is time-consuming. Automating workflows streamlines processes and brings hyper-productivity. Response times shorten, patient experience improves and a lot of bottlenecks are removed. Further, avoiding repetitive tasks helps to keep people motivated and energized. Errors reduce, overtime decreases and efficiency increases as natural side effects.
Some of the tasks that automation can handle include:
1. Manage scheduling and patient billing: Manual scheduling is a time-consuming task involving many variables, especially in large and busy establishments. RPA can take over all administrative tasks of a healthcare facility and handle them without getting tired or bored. Other than managing billing and claims, handling scheduling, reminders and cancellations, automation can manage patient intake too. Processes can be streamlined, and billing and revenue cycles can be improved. Patient management will be smoother too. The administrative staff can focus only on tasks that require leadership skills and decision making.
2. Support medical staff in critical tasks: Many healthcare systems use ML tools to adapt to changes. For example, an increase in patient volume during flu season requires more staff, less waiting, more ambulances and many other services. Historical data allows healthcare facilities to prepare for such eventualities.
This capability to adapt was amply proved during the dark times of the COVID pandemic. Automation helped hospitals respond fast to changes that were happening at a breathless pace. To ensure that the staff remained safe and to prevent burnout, hospitals set up automated screening tools so that patients could self-triage. Some facilities also used AI tools trained to identify pneumonia in COVID-19 patients. Messaging solutions and video calls helped staff and patients stay in touch.
3. Derive insights from electronic health records (EHRs): EHRs are treasure troves of valuable data. Automation enables both collection and management of data. Data can be easily shared between concerned departments leading to easier collaboration during treatment. Sharing administrative data can also help reduce lead times for surgeries or appointments. EHRs can be used to train AI applications, carry out patient research and thereby improve patient care.
4. Boost speed and precision of diagnosis: Automation helps medical professionals diagnose conditions faster and more precisely. Further, patient conditions can be always observed, and any deviation can be controlled quickly. Human errors, whether caused by oversight or fatigue, can be significantly reduced by adopting automation.
5. Communicate with patients: Automation makes it easy for patients to communicate with medical professionals and access care. Chatbots are used by many healthcare facilities to schedule appointments and answer patient questions. Tele-consultations between patients and doctors were a huge success during the last two years. AI can also be used to conduct surveys and analyze responses when needed.
6. Use technology to enhance patient data security: Automation and blockchain are two powerful ways of protecting data and ensuring patient privacy. Automating case management allows only authorized people to access a patient’s health information. Blockchain keeps data safe by using encryption and other security tools.
7. Ensure easy data visibility: Healthcare dashboards offer easy visibility of data. Administrators can gauge operational efficiencies by looking at different kinds of data that can be easily collected by automated tools. Clinical data, resource availability and allocation and claims data can all be observed easily. A dashboard can help both healthcare providers and insurers.
Concerns and Challenges
A major concern among healthcare employees about automation is whether it might lead to reduction in staff. However, automation in the healthcare industry is about allowing healthcare professionals to focus on clinical tasks rather than spending time on repetitive administrative tasks. Since the healthcare industry is perpetually understaffed, laying off employees is not really a solution by any means. In fact, efficient automation boosts staff satisfaction as well as patient satisfaction.
Training staff on the automated solutions deployed by a facility is an important part of the process. It helps employees adapt to the idea of automation as well as begin taking advantage of the options available.
There are many tasks in healthcare that can be automated, but it is essential to prioritize which ones will benefit an organization most significantly. The pandemic made it quite clear that digital tools are essential to continue functioning under all circumstances.
This article was first published on Nearshore Americas