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Leveraging robotic process automation to drive improved healthcare

Posted January 12, 2021
RPA healthcare

Healthcare systems are often incredibly complex and disjointed. U.S. hospitals, for example, have an average of 29 different disparate electronic systems that may be housing portions of a single patient’s health and treatment information.

This complexity and lack of real-time data sharing between systems often affects patients receiving timely and high-quality healthcare. Fortunately, advances in technology in areas like digital or electronic health records (EHR) and robotic process automation (RPA) are helping to streamline workflows to create better health experiences for all.

For instance, RPA can be used to help move patients’ information across various touchpoints in the healthcare continuum from a hospital or doctor’s office to a treatment clinic to a pharmacy to their insurance provider. By incorporating RPA, healthcare organizations can more quickly, accurately and securely coordinate data that is held in a multitude of locations to drive better health outcomes and patient experiences (PX).

RPA breaks through healthcare’s data silos

Robotic Process Automation is technology in which typical human interactions within a business process are automated by “software robots.” This automation can increase the efficiency of a business process by quickly handling and connecting massive amounts of healthcare data across multiple systems.

It may sound mundane on the surface, but RPA in the healthcare context has a lot of direct benefits to patients. Healthcare providers collect a tremendous amount of data from patients, including personal information, treatment cycles, health surveys and billing records. Because industry standards at the moment mean that all this information is typically collected, processed, filed, and stored across a network of siloed and sometimes incompatible systems, a system without RPA is often slower, more expensive and less effective for the patient.

From a patient perspective, streamlining all this reduces their administrative burden, can speed up follow-up scheduling and potentially even lead to improved healthcare outcomes, not to mention greater overall satisfaction and patient experience. This is because RPA can more easily use the significant amount of patient data to glean insights, customize treatments and make faster or more accurate diagnoses.

Organizationally, successfully implementing RPA means that healthcare data being held across all those systems can be seamlessly connected, offering the organization crucial health data interoperability.

Of course, with great data comes great responsibility, so organizations implementing RPA should view the ability to quickly access and transfer electronic healthcare records as both an incredible opportunity to improve PX, and a responsibility to implement enhanced data protection.

Why healthcare data security is critical

Patients expect that their sensitive data held in electronic health records will be kept private and secure. But the inherent value of such sensitive data makes it an especially attractive target for cybercriminals. Successfully implementing RPA requires that organizations have a strong data security plan to lessen the likelihood of breaches.

There are some protections already in place. U.S. federal law requires that doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers notify patients in the case of a data breach. In the United States, there is a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule that requires organizations to maintain certain data security protocols.

But organizations should strive to go above and beyond the basic application of the law. An organization’s data security plan should include a culture of strong password use, ensuring that the data and networks are secured with the latest security solutions, encrypting the healthcare data and having a data breach mitigation plan. Accessing healthcare data should also be limited to select authorized individuals, and data should have “access control” tools such as PIN numbers and passwords. In addition, organizations handling healthcare data should put in place an audit trail that keeps track of the individuals that have accessed the data and changes that were made.

RPA’s speed and accuracy can improve patient outcomes

Time is critical when it comes to bettering healthcare outcomes and the patient journey. For example, a patient with stage 3 cancer often depends on the approval of their insurance company before moving ahead with important procedures. Without RPA, the process of receiving prior authorization from a healthcare provider is mostly a manual process, which invites unnecessary and stressful delays.

In 2019, according to the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare Index, only 13% of prior authorization approvals were conducted entirely electronically. However, a recent survey of executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 59% of healthcare professionals say RPA is an essential priority for them.

RPA would allow for the digital medical records of that patient to be more efficiently connected to the appropriate insurance systems, thereby receiving prior authorization for the cancer procedure in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The increased automation and medical record data sharing would massively change the experience — and potentially, the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing — of the cancer patient.

Real world applicability, right now

Likewise, the difficulty that healthcare professionals are having successfully treating COVID-19 patients shines a bright light on the inefficiencies of a non-automated system for moving healthcare data. “The data is moving slower than the disease,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. Speaking to GCN, a publication focused on public sector IT professionals, Hamilton continued, “We need a way to get that information electronically and seamlessly to public health agencies so we can do investigations, quarantine people and identify hot spots and risk groups in real time, not two weeks later.”

RPA offers the potential to be a transformative technology that can create better health experiences for patients. But this requires a thoughtful process by healthcare professionals to ensure the sensitive patient data is responsibly handled and secured. If implemented with a thorough process, RPA offers the ability to truly gain value from the tremendous amount of data collected from patients while enabling collaboration and efficiency.

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