Automating devices and processes has yielded exponential savings in hundreds of sectors now. Dozens of manual processes and old-fashioned communication have become old news with automation.
And if any industry that needs, or rather, demands quicker, more efficient processes, it’s healthcare. Yet, healthcare continues to be mercurial in its adoption of automation and AI. We’re talking about potentially labor-saving and cost-saving technology, that is estimated to be a $10 billion industry by 2024 in healthcare alone. To put things in perspective, healthcare in the US alone represents 17.8% of the GDP- and the global number is a little smaller at 10%. Why does healthcare continue to lag behind the rest of the world?
Why has healthcare been slow in its adoption of automation?
For one reason, there was no urgency. Competitive pressures didn’t really exist in healthcare, so the challenge of wringing out incremental savings in labor was put on back burner. But healthcare margins now translate into performance for providers, and as many value-based contracts depend partially on efficiency, healthcare providers need to improve how they run processes.
Second, is the problem of data consolidation. Although a major chunk of healthcare data has been digitized, it’s usually stored in legacy systems, under different formats which make collaboration difficult. For almost a decade and a half, healthcare organizations were encouraged to digitize their healthcare data. And when they did, there were proprietary tools that did not have the flexibility that is essential in today’s healthcare landscape. The silos render information less useful than they could be. 95% of providers believe that the lack of seamless data exchange limits their ability to transfer data across the network.
Third, healthcare professionals are concerned about the impact automation will have on healthcare. After all, it is primarily a human-centered sector and should remain so. Patients value the contact they have with their providers, and there is a worry that automation of processes may make healthcare seem cold and distant.
A change on the horizon
The worry behind automation in healthcare may have a sliver of validity- some patients prefer human contact when they make appointments or visit their provider. But as hospitals nationally are under tremendous pressure to improve reimbursements and deal with cost pressures, they are finding ways to improve their productivity and efficiency.
Additionally, although there may be some validity to the worry that automating healthcare may make the field cold and distant, there is a change in how patients view it. Younger patients have been known to skew in a different direction.
According to a survey, conducted on patients under 40, they found that:
These facts above paint a very clear picture: younger patients want a more digital experience of care. They expect data to be delivered at their fingertips, and automation can deliver the kind of service they want.
Not to mention how automaton increases the amount of time healthcare providers have for their patients for a direct interaction- which also gives them the ability to manage more patients. All in all, automation- full or partial- of different processes can be a productive tool for healthcare organizations.
The first steps?
Many healthcare leaders would agree that labor-saving technology and techniques would be one avenue, to begin with, when it comes to automation.
The 2016 CAQH Index report reveals that the administrative costs of manually-driven processes such as closing data gaps, allocating resources, prior authorizations, and other utilization management processes consume nearly $300 billion a year. That’s about 15% of all healthcare expenditures!
Both payers and providers spend a great deal of time approving requests or feeding data manually or reviewing them. The media remains phones, fax, and even postal mail, which leads to greater inefficiencies and administrative burdens, lower reimbursements, and even unnecessary delays in patient care. For healthcare’s shift to value-based care, healthcare organizations need to modify their daily workflows with automation and technology integration.
Envisioning automation in healthcare
The first thing we need to understand is that it’s no longer wise to have different applications for different purposes. Isolating applications, systems, and technologies have to be eliminated to bring integration and interoperability into the picture.
Next, healthcare organizations that are developing some technology-enabled strategies should focus on the real-time availability of data. With the necessary interoperability and data-sharing capabilities, leaders can develop a real-time health system (RTHS).
Gartner defines real-time health system to be “a healthcare-provider specific, loosely-coupled, service-oriented architecture that delivers the IT capabilities required for enabling digital capabilities, such as digital care delivery, real-time administration or advanced consumer engagement.”
In simple terms, a real-time health system would be an extensible and agile architecture that can improve as healthcare evolves and satisfies digital business and care delivery. A real-time health system is one of the basic forms of automation in healthcare that can provide the necessary support for real-time decision-making, intelligent operations, and efficient care delivery. The ability to act on insights at the right time is what would define a health system’s ability to leverage data into value.
Automation within a real-time health system
To succeed in meeting the challenges of an evolving healthcare, there should be some key elements in developing an automation strategy:
What should the Hospital Automation address?
There are three key areas that any strategy for hospital automation should address:
Patient experience of care can be immensely improved by automating appointment scheduling and booking. Automation can also help in reducing the clutter in emergency departments or waiting rooms and improve the patient flow. Patients can be sent automated reminders for an upcoming appointment or notify them to get their prescriptions refilled. Providers can also remain in touch with their patients via remote monitoring and mHealth and connect with their patients on the fly.
Thinking automation first
Healthcare has lots of potential for cost and quality gains through automation, and it’s time healthcare leaders started thinking about automation before adding services or renovating. Value-based care depends immensely on how healthcare organizations control the cost of care. And unlike any other organization in any other sector, automating processes will allow healthcare organizations to focus their time and resources on their core mission- delivering excellent patient care at all time.
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