These days, you don’t have to look too hard to find someone saying that robotic process automation is poised to create disruption in the healthcare environment. While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that if you’re not paying attention to RPA you should be, questions still abound about what RPA is and how it applies to healthcare.
What is RPA?CIO magazine’s Clint Boulton defines RPA as, “an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automation business processes.” While that sounds simple enough, it may not paint the whole picture for those seeking to understand what RPA is. I like to describe RPA in human terms.
RPA is…like a new hireImagine hiring a new employee. On their first day, you would likely get them an account in your system, show them around and perhaps have them shadow another employee. Shortly after they start, they will begin training for their new role. Some of that training will include someone sitting with them and showing them how to perform their various tasks. If this person works in registration in your hospital, some will need to show them, step-by-step, how to register a new patient in the EMR system, how to make decisions at different points in the process, and what to do with problems or exceptions. An RPA solution works the same way. You teach the tool what it needs to do, step-by-step, to complete a process. You teach it how to make decisions and who to alert if there is a problem - and then it does it over and over again without human error.
RPA is…like no ordinary staff memberThe difference between your new automated employee and its human counterpart is that your RPA solution will never take a day off, never get sick, never take a break, work around the clock, never make a calculation error or introduce a keying error, and it will never tire of tedious tasks.
RPA is….the fastest member of your team
What’s more, your automated employee will work at least four times faster than its human counterpart and you can “hire” as many of them as you like without incurring the overhead costs associated with an employee. For example, you could create 20 “bots” that share the load on one process and they would complete the process 80 times faster than one employee at a fraction of the cost.
The Evolution of RPA
Screen ScrapingAttend any healthcare conference these days and you will think RPA is an emerging technology. McKinsey Digital even calls RPA an emerging and disruptive technology. Funny description for a technology that’s been around since the early 1990’s and mainframes. RPA really began with screen scraping or reading text data from a computer terminal’s screen. As technology evolved, screen scraping evolved with it. When terminal screens were replaced with user interfaces, screen scraping technology interacted with the visual elements on the screen to automate user interaction.
RPA todayRPA has grown past simple screen scraping. It is now a robust technology used to automate a variety of platforms. RPA can now automate windows applications, web interactions, cloud-based enterprise systems, APIs, spreadsheets, databases, and more.
RPA in the futureAs significant progress continues to be made with artificial intelligence (AI), innovators are already looking at how to combine AI with RPA to make the automation process even more robust. In the future, RPA will not only need little human interaction once processes are developed, but the systems will be able to learn from themselves. That means instead of consistently reteaching or fine-tuning RPA solutions, they will be able to teach themselves.
RPA in HealthcareWhile there may have been other solutions at the time, the earliest form of RPA in healthcare I became aware of was OLIE. OLIE, On-Line Interface Express, was a Siemens product used to automate Invision and Signature. The fact is, RPA has been active in healthcare for over 20 years! Today, RPA is all the rage. The industry is experiencing a major shift as RPA becomes a standard practice. Over 100 healthcare facilities are using our EMUE tool and there are likely as many or more facilities leveraging RPA technology to automate routine and labor-intense tasks in their revenue cycles.
Benefits of RPABecker’s Hospital Review asked 146 C-level executives what topics interested them the most. The top three areas ranked as the number one priority were:
- Preparing the enterprise for sustainable cost control
- Innovative approaches to expense reduction
- Exploring diversified, innovative revenue streams
Efficient pre-authorizationWhen leveraged properly, RPA can help streamline the pre-authorization process, an especially troublesome component of the revenue cycle. RPA can gather information from payer websites and other systems needed to submit a health pre-authorization request. Your RPA tool can then aggregate and integrate that data with your EHR, taking much of the leg-work out of the process.
Reduce manual data entryLet’s face it. Revenue cycle staff spend tremendous amounts of time on repetitive data entry or data correction tasks. These tasks tend to be straight-forward but require a lot of system navigation and manual entry. Once you teach your RPA tool the process of entering or updating data, you can have these processes completed behind the scenes while your staff focuses on higher level tasks.
Error reductionThere are a variety of factors that contribute to error. Simple typos, user fatigue, and complacency are just a few. RPA tools do exactly what you ask them to every time. If they introduce an error, it is because you trained them to. They can handle tremendous amounts of data without a single keying error. Fatigue is never an issue as RPA tools don’t get tired and they don’t know how to reach a level of comfort that leads to complacency. Again, unless you’ve taught your RPA tool to make a mistake, it will perform its functions with 100% accuracy every time.
Communication between disparate systemsHow much time does your staff spend manually moving data from one system to another because the two aren’t designed to communicate with one another. Maybe you’re pulling insurance policy information from a payer website and putting it in your system. Or maybe you have one clinic that uses another system so you have to enter charges manually. Because RPA tools emulate human users, navigating disparate systems, collecting data, and aggregating it somewhere else can be a fully automated process.
Becoming a heroAn RPA tool can do the work of four people without any people at all. Imagine what objectives you could reach if you could substantially increase productivity without increasing operating costs. An RPA tool is your best partner in exceeding the expectations that are placed on you.
A New Day In Healthcare
As hospitals are under increasing pressure to manage costs, the demands placed on their staff are growing. As hospitals look for new ways to meet new demands without significant increases in operating costs, robotic process automation is becoming one of the most effective avenues. Approaching RPA with a thoughtful plan will be the best way to make sure your organization leverages the technology to meet your unique objectives.