In today’s economy, no matter what industry you are in, efficiency, output, and accuracy are critical to successful outcomes and the healthcare industry is no different. When discussing something like robotic process automation (RPA), there might be some hesitance or even resistance because of the first word: “robotic.” Hollywood representation of sensationalized robots may flood the mind, illustrating a fantastical nature of robots and casting doubt over RPA bots’ implementation and efficacy. In reality, RPA is not only useful in its application to business procedures, but it eases the workload for humans.

What is RPA?

RPA is a rising methodology for business process automation. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, processes can be completed, driven by business rules and specific inputs within the company workflow. A company can employ software, a “robot,” to handle repeatable tasks, ranging from an automated email response to clinical data extraction in the healthcare world. Loose examples of using machines to assist with or do low-value company processes have been around since people started using devices to sharpen their pencils or print out paper. Now it’s been given a name and brought to computers through IT.

Automating Healthcare

The question remains: why does the healthcare industry, one where humanity and face-to-face interaction is so valued, need robotic process automation? Medical paperwork and administration take up more and more time of physicians today. In a study published in the Health Affairs journal, researchers collected data on how 500 primary care physicians spent their time between face-to-face patient interaction and desktop tasks. They found that physicians spent less than half their time in direct patient care. The other half is spent with things like prescription refills, telephone encounters, and progress notes, to name a few.

Another study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine found that first year doctors or interns spend 87% of their work time interacting with EHRs away from patients. Nurses spend 51% of their time doing tasks unrelated to patient care like manually inputting orders, scheduling, and processing registration.

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Hesitation surfaces when some begin to fear that RPA may be so efficient that it will start stealing jobs from people. However, RPA doesn’t automate jobs; rather, it automates tasks that ultimately take up the valuable time of those providing care to patients. Instead of jobs being eliminated, they will shift to focus more on responsibilities that require human skills.

Financial Impact

Not only do tedious, non-patient related tasks disrupt the quality of healthcare being provided, but they also have an economic effect. According to the National Academy of Medicine, every year, an estimated $765 billion in healthcare dollars is spent on unnecessary or overused tests, services, or medical procedures. The Washington Health Alliance found that in Washington State, more than 600,000 patients had unnecessary treatments and close to 85% of lab tests that were performed on low-risk patients for routine surgeries were superfluous.

Automation can reduce wasted hours while increasing accuracy and removing unnecessary orders. In a Deloitte survey of RPA use of over 400 individuals across different industries, 90% said RPA helped improve quality and accuracy. When it comes to medical data, typos and errors can be financially costly and potentially dangerous to someone’s health. Having software that automatically provides correct inputs to whatever system it is using can help significantly on multiple levels.

Across the board, healthcare institution workflows contain routine tasks that are critical to patients and providers alike.  Robotic Process Automation not only improves the speed and accuracy of these actions, but it allows healthcare professionals to spend the majority of their time with patients.  As the scope of what RPA bots can do increases workflow efficiency, the potential for more time and resources being put towards patients in need does as well.