MedCity Influencers, Health IT

How Robotic Processing Automation can improve healthcare at scale

When used correctly, RPA solutions can completely transform operational processes to drive financial efficiency, enhance employee engagement, and improve the customer (or in this case, patient) experience.

Anyone entering the healthcare field quickly learns one thing: there is a lot more administrative work that goes into the job than expected. And while tasks like processing payments, inputting patient data, and scheduling appointments are critical to the patient care continuum, it doesn’t take healthcare professionals long to grow weary of them.

This never-ending cycle of tedium has caused many providers to wonder: “How can we liberate ourselves from these mundane (albeit necessary) tasks without dropping the ball from an operational standpoint?”

Although there are a few ways to answer this, one solution has been gaining significant traction these past few years: robotic processing automation (RPA).

RPA at a Glance
By definition, RPA is software technology in which “bots” are created and used to automate digital tasks. RPA works best when applied to repetitive tasks that follow a strict set of rules. And considering that much of the “busy work” in health care is grounded in repetition, RPA has quickly become a viable solution for a wide range of organizations looking to drive efficiencies while creating capacity to address higher-level issues.

Some real-world use cases of RPA currently include:

  • scheduling patient appointments,
  • simplifying the billing and claims process,
  • optimizing data collection and analytics,
  • extracting and optimizing patient data, and
  • improving revenue cycle management functions.

RPA isn’t just a boon for patient-facing organizations—healthcare vendors are getting in on the action, too. For example, the company I work for faced the daunting challenge of transferring over 1 million pieces of patient data from one EMR to another. As any medical professional can attest, switching EMRs is a notoriously time-consuming process. So, we invested in RPA to bring efficiency to an otherwise manual and laborious task. In the end, we saved valuable time—and a significant chunk of change.

However, while reducing costs is the biggest benefit of RPA as of now, this technology holds significantly more potential to transform health care at large.

Enhancing the Care Cycle
What makes RPA so impactful isn’t its ability to bolster bottom lines, but rather, its scalability. And to improve health care in the long run, we need innovations—like intelligent automation—that enable our industry’s stakeholders to move beyond the minutiae and empower them to focus their efforts on creating change at scale.

Take data collection, for instance. The healthcare industry amasses huge amounts of data by the hour—and having automated processes in place to continuously monitor patient records can help providers:

  • Quickly identify patients who deviate from care plans, and get them back on track;
  • Efficiently analyze comprehensive amounts of data to make more informed decisions in regard to patients’ diagnoses and treatments; and
  • Effectively and securely share patient data with other members of their patients’ interdisciplinary teams, thus reducing medical errors and enhancing the patient experience.

Above all, when used correctly, intelligent automation can help clinicians invest more time in the most valuable aspect of their job: patient care.

Reducing Burnout and Optimizing Patient Care
Provider burnout is one of the most pervasive issues in health care. In fact, research from the American Medical Association indicates that 43.9% of US physicians exhibit at least one symptom of burnout. This creates a host of downstream problems, as burned-out providers are more likely to:

  • spend less one-on-one time with patients,
  • leave a practice (thus reducing patients’ access to and continuity of care), and
  • make medical errors (thus putting patients’ health and safety at risk).

One of the biggest contributors to burnout is the ever-increasing administrative work stemming from non-clinical tasks like documentation, insurance authorizations, and scheduling—all things that can be done faster and more accurately with RPA. And when providers are freed from the monotony, they have more time to focus on the parts of the job that they really enjoy. This, in turn, boosts morale and productivity, thus enhancing care delivery and optimizing patient outcomes overall.

Enriching the Human Experience
For those working in health care, the demand for digital solutions like RPA feels like the dawning of the new era—albeit one that is met with mixed emotions. There remain a fair number of providers who fear that in our rush to digitize every aspect of the healthcare journey, we’re detracting from the human touch—something that has been a vital component of medicine for longer than we can recount.

And although their apprehensions are understandable (I, too, worry about the impact these technologies may have on human interaction), RPA has actually been found to strengthen and enrich human interactions.

According to a study commissioned by UiPath and conducted by Forrester Consulting, nearly 70% of organizations surveyed believe RPA is enabling employees to have more human interaction. The reason (as indicated in the study) is that RPA restructures work in a way that increases efficiency and therefore, creates more time for engagement with colleagues and customers alike. And from a healthcare lens, this equates to an amplified ability to prioritize the human experience.

RPA has quickly become one of the most sought-after digital solutions across industries worldwide. According to the Deloitte Global RPA Survey, more than half of respondents have already started their automation journey—and as many as 72% expect to do so over the next two years. Why? Because when used correctly, RPA solutions can completely transform operational processes to drive financial efficiency, enhance employee engagement, and improve the customer (or in this case, patient) experience.

So, if you haven’t thought about leveraging RPA in your organization, my advice is to start thinking about it now. Like it or not, it’s coming—and the more prepared you are, the more you, your team, and your patients stand to gain from it in the long run.

Photo: Olivier Le Moal, Getty Images



Russell Olsen joined Phoenix-based WebPT as Vice President of Innovation and Product Management in 2017. He leads category design, product management, user experience and product discovery—as well as applying disruptive innovation approaches to accelerate growth while solving customer and market problems. Russell brings with him deep experience in healthcare and growth companies, and has delivered innovations impacting millions of lives over the course of his 15-year career.

Prior to WebPT, Russell led product teams at other healthcare organizations. His roles included Vice President of Product and Innovation at Phytel, an IBM company, and Offering leader at IBM Watson Health, where he led the creation of provider-led population health tools and the integration of Watson and machine learning into several offering portfolios. At IBM he also led the development and launch of Watson Care Manager, helping care managers improve the lives of chronically ill individuals across the globe. Additionally, he led teams at MDdatacor (now Symphony Technology Group), uncovering new ways to use natural language processing to improve the payer driven quality programs.

Russell graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in electronics and information technology. He also received a certificate in “Disruptive Strategy” from Harvard Business School in 2017.

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