By L. Albert Villarin, MD, FACEP
Next time you are traveling, pay attention to the world of automation we live in. I checked in for my flight from the comfort of my smartphone. The Uber app sent a ride, directing the driver exactly where to drop me off. As I entered the airport, an automated tram drove me to my terminal, where a kiosk later allowed me to order a meal. Beyond travel, it’s advancements in automation for manufacturing and farming that make all of the above – including my smartphone – cheaper and, normally, more efficient.
Automation is the trend in hospitality, transportation, finance, and more. Eventually, no industry will remain untouched as the improved quality and cost-savings continue to speak for themselves. Healthcare is no different. For example, we’ve talked in this blog previously about how robotic process automation (RPA) can save money and time during the revenue cycle. RPA is also transformative on the clinical side, where it can improve efficiency, leading to time and cost savings, all while yielding better outcomes for patients and providers alike.
Timeliness and transparency of data are important to so many clinical decision, but sorting through that information is time-consuming and ripe for errors. RPA puts that data to work, interacting with hospital systems in the same way people would, except certain functions are automated based on best-practice evaluations. It is ideal for use with rule-based, repeatable processes that leverage the organization’s key systems, including electronic health records (EHRs).
All RPA actions are easily viewable from a dashboard display, where new rules can be customized based on individual circumstance. Even if an event on the clinical side requires manual review, if the process is something providers and patients must always face, automation can improve the efficiency of the task, yielding a savings of time and money. These clinical events include:
- Qualifying Admissions: For hospitals, a checklist must be met before a patient is approved for admission. Qualifying admissions is designed to cut down on unnecessary usage of hospital beds, freeing up resources for the patients who need them most. In short, there is evidence-based criteria for admitting a patient into the hospital and, if a patient doesn’t meet the criteria, providers may not be reimbursed for any care delivered.
RPA allows for the automatic determination of a patient’s eligibility, flagging patients who are not eligible for admission or who require a more-extensive review. This helps providers avoid a loss of reimbursement while ensuring patients get the care that’s best for them – and that isn’t always a hospital visit.
- Proactive Discharge Processes: During the registration process, hospitals and health systems are required to measure a patient’s predicted length of stay, the risk a patient poses, and other factors that can affect patient satisfaction and reimbursement. With the help of RPA, missing paperwork can be automatically found, as can relevant patient data that can help speed up the registration – and later the discharge – process.Insurance approvals are vital to have as soon as possible and RPA speeds up the process, automatically gathering all the relevant data insurers and payers will need. This information is taken not only from an individual patient’s history but also from best practices in literature and other relevant EHR data that provide evidence for care processes and potential costs.
- Patient Flow and Care: Patient transfers between departments and facilities can be an arduous process and is a time where discharge instructions can be mishandled, leading to lower medication adherence and patient outcomes. Further, RPA can potentially gather data from the EHR, data warehouses, and other hospital systems to gain valuable insights that can point providers to a probable diagnosis and best practices for care. From there, any additional tests can be automatically identified and scheduled, helping patients to avoid redundant or unnecessary tests, thus saving patients and providers valuable time and money.
- Post-Discharge Monitoring: From prescriptions to post-discharge instructions, ensuring a patient follows through on their care once they leave the hospital is one of the biggest challenges providers face. RPA can help ensure patients have everything they need at the point of discharge and improve accuracy of that information. With robotic automation, reminders can also be sent to patients who fail to pick up or refill prescriptions. Pharmacists and providers can receive alerts when a patient may require further intervention or instructions.
Additionally, RPA could pull data from patient portals to monitor not only patient care after discharge, but also to gather valuable insights that may be useful for future patient care. As information from wearables, questionnaires, lab results, and health apps are uploaded, this ongoing monitoring of patient health may present further opportunities to improve outcomes and reduce potential readmission. In a value-based market, those benefits cannot be overstated.
As time moves forward, new roles for automation no one has thought of will continually present themselves. When outcomes are what matter, consistency is the recipe for success, and nothing can ever be as consistent as automated, rule-based technology.
Value-based models will continue to evolve and clinical care will change to place more emphasis on the health of patient populations. As a result, the role of RPA will only continue to become more central to care delivery. Managing the health of patient populations requires a proactive approach that simpler data analytics built into an EHR simply can’t provide. RPA has broad access to clinical data, enabling the solution to draw out relevant information that enhances patient care, all while automating certain processes for improved efficiency.