Technology has long been hailed a key solution to the challenges that healthcare systems across the world face. Now, as the industry begins its recovery from the biggest challenge of the 21st century, it’s time to take a sharper look at how and where these technologies can be applied to help elevate patient experiences and get services back on track. Automation is already playing a fundamental role in this recovery, with use cases spanning from patient prioritisation to ordering PPE, and everything in-between. To do this, Blue Prism hosted a roundtable for healthcare executives across Singapore, to understand the key use cases, benefits, and challenges of scaling automation. Here are the five key takeaways from the session.
1. Automation is becoming prevalent across all healthcare functions
If there’s one thing the roundtable illuminated, it’s that there is no shortage of automation use cases throughout the healthcare sector. From back-office patient processing to clinical workflows and population healthcare management, and across primary and secondary providers, we can see that use cases for digital workers have permeated almost all areas and departments. And they’re driving significant benefits, too.
Ian Blackburn, Head of Customer Success at Blue Prism Cloud, highlighted but a few of these use cases, including how Blue Prism digital workers are automating outpatient referrals, COVID-19 test results processing, pharmacy requests and ordering, and life sciences drug approvals.
These benefits were also acknowledged by a key executive from the Singapore public health system, who is using automation to streamline patient intake, triage and billing. Handling up to 1000 patients a day, automation was introduced to handle the simple but mundane check-in steps patients undertake when entering the clinic, to ensure that patients and staff can have as stress-free experience as possible.
“What we do in the polyclinics by deploying the automation is to make life easier for everybody. It takes away demanding tasks from our people who are definitely more aspirational.”
As well as relief for staff, automation is also enabling patients to check-in for their appointments up to half an hour before their scheduled time, meaning that they’ve been able to avoid overcrowding in the clinic, which has helped to combat overcrowding and maintain social distancing.
Check out Blue Prism’s full range of case studies here.
2. Automation is moving from tactical to strategic
The constant replenishment of new use cases is largely down to the innovative nature of the global healthcare community, which overall is migrating from tactical applications of automation, to strategic. This is helping to mature individual organisations’ capabilities, and drive value for patients and staff on a global scale.
The panel put this down to two main shifts: the first being the move away from efficiency and financial objectives in favour patient and staff experience. This is something that Jovana Djapa, Customer Success Director at Blue Prism also noted, stating that:
“We’ve seen a big shift in objectives: so before that we were talking to our customers about what they want to achieve. We were mostly getting answers around operational efficiency, cost reduction. But now what we’re starting to see is a very rapid shift towards improving patient experience and employee experience. With that, we’re also seeing a shift in use cases.”
The roundtable’s attendees showed support for this notion, with 60% noting that they’re focused on automation gearedtowards integrated care and patient experience. Only 30% stated that they remain focused on back-office transformation.
The second reason was attributed to business leaders shifting their perception of automation from a mere productivity tool to a long-term strategic asset within their digital tool kit. This again has helped to accelerate the move to value-driving processes for staff and patients and has also led to the rise in innovation with automation. As noted by a participant leading clinical transformation, healthcare organisations must move away from focusing on quick wins if they are to truly drive value while also noting that organisations often focus on automating “broken processes” to make them work, rather than rethinking how these processes should be engineered in the first place. Another key executive from the public health system also agreed with this notion, stating that processes shouldn’t be taken at face-value, and automation is an opportunity to review how they work. As he so concisely put it:
“We must focus on digitalisation rather than digitisation… digitisation is basically just a conversion of a hard copy into something electronic… automation should be about change management”.
3. The pandemic has given health organisations the ability to reimagine processes at speed
And when it comes to change management, no healthcare conversation would be complete without mentioning the pandemic. As noted by multiple members of the roundtable, including host and moderator Dr Charles Alessi, Chief Clinical Officer, HIMSS, the pandemic exposed the technological debts healthcare organisations were facing, and enabled organizations to write off those debts by quickly procuring new and exciting technologies. This flurry of activity is widely credited to have enabled organisations to undergo give years of transformation in a mere five months, and in doing so, has opened up the playing field for new ways of approaching digitization. As Ian Blackburn put it “with automation, healthcare organisations have the opportunity to do things the way they want to, not the way they’ve always had to.” This sentiment echoes that of point two and is a firm reminder that automation will service healthcare organisations beyond connecting siloed legacy infrastructure.
This is reinforced in Ian Blackburn’s comment:
“From a patient perspective, we can choose multiplatform ways of engaging, so whether it’s on a website or an app, or whether it’s through a phone call or through a text message, whatever that channel that they want to communicate on, you can open that out, reengineer the process, but not necessarily have to expose that to all the systems at the back end so the use of legacy architecture and infrastructure and applications is still there.”
4. To get started with automation, you just need to get started
It may sound simple, but the only way to hit the ground running is to dive right in. Ian shared some top tips on key considerations to get started:
- Map out your process at a high level
- Understand where you are either spending the most hours, or could have the biggest impact on speed, quality, availability of service, RFT and how that impacts your patient service targets
- Look at the end-to-end experience and multiple processes – can you link them together?
- Make a start – the sooner you do the sooner you will improve your processes.
5. Automation isn’t just about technology: it’s also about culture
This point was raised by many of the attendees, and for good reason. So often misunderstood as a solution that will take jobs away from humans, automation strategies should receive the input from a host of teams and functions, not just IT to ensure that the human element is not overlooked.
As a key executive from the public health system put it: “It’s a change management that we are embarking on rather than just about implementing an IT system.”
This means being open and honest about your plans with your workforce and bringing in HR early to support the people the project may displace. Another key executive from the Singapore health system also shared his thoughts on this, noting:
“So if you don’t have a current strategy to retrain your staff right, you will. You will run into a lot of pushbacks… it’s always something you need to balance carefully hand in hand. Additionally, I think the opportunities will come in when you’re growing and your mantra is ‘let’s do this without hiring and look at automation as a solution for me instead of getting a warm body'”.