The effects of the global health crisis will be felt for years and perhaps decades to come. While supply chains will recover over time and economic strength can return, some changes will be much more long-lasting—such as alterations in how we work. It’s already clear that the “return to the office” push has been met with strong resistance in some sectors, increasing the importance of tools that can connect systems and automate tasks effectively.

However, in some industries, unique demands make responding to the post-pandemic realities more challenging. Healthcare, in particular, faces numerous issues that will become pressing difficulties over the next decade. In the United Kingdom alone, that nation’s National Health Service expects to ultimately face staff shortages in the hundreds of thousands by 2030. Similar conditions exist in the United States.

Administrators and others have begun a turn towards technology to fill the gap and to empower those still engaged in the industry to accomplish more. The promise of artificial intelligence and, thus, intelligent automation platforms is already coming into focus. Along the way, most organizations will recognize the value of a strong foundation that quickly enables their teams to accomplish more with the same resources—and that foundation comes in the form of robotic process automation or RPA.

What are the specific problems facing healthcare as a broader industry today, and where might robotic process automation fit into the picture? A close look reveals that RPA is already on the way to becoming a cornerstone technology in the future of healthcare.

What is RPA All About?

In its most basic form, RPA is a set of technologies that provide a framework for automating many tasks that human knowledge workers perform by interacting with software. Using RPA, organizations can build “software robots” that take over these tasks—such as retrieving and displaying patient information, applying security settings to new data, or monitoring a system, logging its data, and generating reports.

RPA aims to take these time-consuming manual tasks out of human hands, where boredom, stress, and workplace pressures can introduce serious errors into essential processes. Instead of spending hours of every workday on these repetitive tasks, RPA ideally lets healthcare workers refocus their energies elsewhere. This technology contains immense potential for value in today’s highly fractured and specialized industry.

The Diversity of Healthcare Poses Unique Challenges

Healthcare today comprises far more than the family doctor’s office, the specialist’s space, or even the hospital. Today the industry is as diverse as the people it serves, stretching into areas that include urgent care, nursing homes, outpatient centers, laboratories, medical device suppliers, and dozens of specialty practices and hospitals. That’s not to mention the intersection between healthcare and insurance.

All these sectors have distinct needs, and many face the broad challenges of trying to sustain operations at scale. Despite the differences between the needs of a major hospital and a rural practice, numerous shortcomings commonly face them today.

  • A high volume of daily administrative work
  • A strained support staff, perhaps rarely operating at full strength
  • Large numbers of patients who expect faster outcomes and accessible information
  • Difficulties in maintaining regulatory compliance
  • A struggle with accuracy and reliability

Ultimately, these problems result from the high demands placed on healthcare today and the lack of available staff. With the pressure on, workers risk not only missing the mark in providing quality patient care but could also put the entire organization at risk.

Healthcare Organizations Can’t Afford Human Errors

Many nurses spend substantial time each day on clerical and administrative tasks. The same is true in insurance, hospital back offices and elsewhere—repetitive tasks consume an incredible amount of time daily. The more often staff have to focus on this work, the less time they have for more valuable functions that use their skills, knowledge and experience. Worse, the tedious and dull work can lead to concentration lapses—and costly human errors.

In a study of historical healthcare data breaches from 2017, 41% of the incidents resulted from unintended disclosures by healthcare workers. The study identified problems that included sending sensitive information to the wrong individuals, mistakenly sharing patient data with the wrong people, or accidentally exposing information via online web services.

Breaches are on the rise, and according to an analysis by IBM, each one costs healthcare organizations $10 million or more on average—and that’s before we even consider the vast impacts of ransomware on the healthcare sector. Mishandling sensitive personal information due to human error can also bring down the weight of regulatory enforcement with the potential for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in fines.

RPA is a powerful tool to help organizations mitigate these risks and tap into additional advantages.

Implementing RPA to Reduce Error Rates

Why is RPA among the best solutions when you need to reconfigure healthcare processes to be more secure and less prone to costly errors that take hours to fix? Simple: robots don’t make mistakes the same way humans do. A human healthcare worker might be having a bad day—perhaps they’re upset with a friend, didn’t sleep well, or feel under the weather. When faced with the same task they’ve done a thousand times before, it’s possible for their attention to drift—and that’s how costly mistakes can happen without a shred of malice.

RPA comes in many forms, with some solutions even offering a “drag and drop” robot builder to automate simple workflows. RPA can handle many tasks, from sending an email to scraping attachments and moving data from place to place in a highly secure environment. Once you’ve recorded your workflow, the robot repeats the process according to the same rules every instant it operates—whether it’s one time or a million times. As long as the robot has quality data, it consistently outputs the correct results.

RPA can work continuously, even overnight, to ensure the results that healthcare organizations need to respond to their needs at every scale today. When you craft robots with quality and compliance in mind, the results will speak for themselves.

Exploring the Broader Benefits of Robotic Process Automation

Error reduction is a fundamental reason many choose to adopt RPA today, but healthcare organizations shouldn’t overlook other key advantages. Investing in automation today helps everyone build toward a future of work that encourages job satisfaction and better outcomes. The broader benefits of RPA in this industry include the following:

  • A more flexible ability for responding to staff shortages or healthcare crises
  • Improved job satisfaction by rededicating skilled workers to skilled work—not administrative tedium
  • Lowered costs through faster results from automated work
  • Generating savings for patients and healthcare clients by eliminating wasted time and additional expenses
  • Improve customer service experiences with automated scheduling, appointment reminders and more
  • Maintain strict compliance with privacy laws through controlled access and automatically-applied security settings

The future of healthcare may depend partly on the incredible savings and workforce flexibility that automation generates.

Forging the Future of a Hybrid Healthcare Environment

Implementing RPA today lays the groundwork for an embrace of intelligent automation tomorrow. As artificial intelligence and machine learning impact and reshape business process management and open the door to large-scale, far-reaching automation, RPA provides fundamental support to improve background processes. Ultimately, the intersection of AI and RPA empowers healthcare organizations to achieve even better outcomes.

The benefits of those outcomes are numerous, from less constrained operating budgets to improved patient experiences. Just as important is the impact on healthcare workers themselves. When thoughtfully-designed software robots become trusted “coworkers” and staff can go hands-off with labor-intensive processes, errors decrease, job satisfaction increases, and the healthcare industry becomes ready for the future of work.

Dan Johnson

Director, Product Marketing at Kofax

Dan Johnson is Director, Product Marketing – Intelligent Automation at Kofax. He delivers global product positioning, sales & partner enablement, and go-to-market strategy for Kofax’s Intelligent Automation Platform, transforming information-intensive business operations start to finish. Prior to Kofax, Dan held similar roles at Alcatel-Lucent, Nitel, Nokia and Revenera. Dan holds a master of business administration, marketing degree from Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University, and a bachelor of science, marketing & economics from Elmhurst University.