What Is Automation in Healthcare?

Although I work for a digital process automation company and I am a huge advocate of automation in healthcare, there is nothing quite like numerous doctor and healthcare appointments and a short stint in a hospital to truly appreciate how many administrative tasks happen with every patient's diagnosis and treatment journey.

When a patient phones a Doctor's receptionist, medical professionals initiate repetitive tasks and administrative processes. This starts with accessing patient data, and then looking at patient records or electronic health records within the healthcare system.

There will be some data entry required if the patient wants to schedule an appointment. Overall, a considerable human element can be time-consuming in a busy GP practice or hospital setting.

Data accuracy in healthcare organizations is largely dependent on data entry. Human errors happen (we're all human, right) but automation in healthcare can not only lower costs but improve patient satisfaction, streamline healthcare processes, and ultimately improve patient care.

What is Healthcare Automation? 

The Forrester report 'The Top Five Trends for US Healthcare Providers in 2024' highlights the continuing pressure that Healthcare provider organizations (HPOs) are under about resource constraints and administrative demands, reinforcing the need for better technology and automation in healthcare.

Forrester Report - Healthcare Automation

In the healthcare industry, there are a whole host of manual processes, spanning many departments, that healthcare professionals have to execute as part of their day-to-day work.

Many of these tasks can be automated by robots through a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tool. Others may require human intervention i.e. when approvals are required in the overall workflow and this can be supported by a Digital Process Automation solution.

I talk about the distinct differences in both in a separate blog post (What is Business Process Automation?)

HPOs will typically, at a minimum, have one of these healthcare automation platforms in their tech stack but quite often both as while RPA solutions offer healthcare automation they are not all-encompassing. RPA does not address the entire process but rather individual steps within a process. Therefore a Digital Process Automation solution is needed to cater for automating entire healthcare business processes end-to-end.

nhs logo homepage1Our NHS client Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a perfect success story of how the FlowForma Digital Process Automation platform is used to augment their RPA investment.

I urge Healthcare organizations to weigh up the pros and cons of both and assess the potential outcomes of a blended RPA + DPA healthcare automation model. 

Examples of Automation in Healthcare

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 continue to ripple through the global health service four years on and for the foreseeable future. In Forrester's research document 'The Future of Healthcare: Success in 2030 Hinges On Customer Obsession and Agility' they advise that a customer-obsessed approach to technology will help weather that storm.

Internal and external customer wins

Healthcare Automation InfographicCustomers are often thought of as the patients and a measure of that is patient satisfaction but internal customers i.e. healthcare professionals and medical professionals, in my experience, must be part of that customer-obsessed approach to technology.

For that reason let's look at examples of automation in healthcare that benefits both types of customers in the healthcare industry.

Automation in Healthcare that Benefits Patients

  • Automated email/letter creations for scheduling appointments or appointment reminders after a specific action by a medical professional

  • Daily Ward Checks and Incident Management - Digital checklists that are completed by appointed staff and submitted electronically, held in a central repository with certain entries initiating other workflows where necessary (e.g. inventory management) and automatically alerting the relevant personnel.

  • Fire Safety Checks - Digitized checklists that allow healthcare organizations to remain compliant while escalating any

  • Automated bed occupancy alerts - when this process is automated the data sharing capability means that everyone who needs visibility has it instantly, patients get allocated a bed in a timely fashion allowing medical staff to treat patients as soon as possible, enhancing the overall patient experience

  • Patient discharge forms - electronic forms allow the patient discharge process to run as quickly and smoothly as possible to eliminate wasted time while ensuring all medical bases are covered before discharge

  • Theatre notes - recorded during a theatre procedure and patient data routed back to a ward before the patient arrives arming all medical personnel with the necessary information in advance. No paper, and no risk of loss between the theatre and the ward. This is particularly beneficial when patient volume is high as medical professionals and patients know that all information is accurately recorded against the patient's record via the healthcare system.

  • Patient Waiting List - an automated system whereby waiting lists on the healthcare systems are automatically updated which in turn can kickstart another automated workflow that allows the patient to be informed of their next appointment and patient data is updated via the automated healthcare solutions.

I am just scratching the surface here. The possibilities are endless but the above examples give you a flavor of what can be achieved and how to enhance patient satisfaction.

Medication Incident Report - Automation in Healthcare

Automation in Healthcare that Benefits Medical Professionals

As I mentioned earlier, internal customers in the healthcare industry can also benefit from automated systems. Let's look at some examples below

  • Operations Building Maintenance and Safety forms - having an automated workflow to record maintenance and safety forms allows healthcare facilities personnel to log issues and concerns on a digitized form quickly. The submission is recorded in a central repository and rules ensure that the concern is routed to the right person/department for action

  • Employee onboarding or off-boarding - Automated solutions for the onboarding and offboarding of healthcare staff is an extremely efficient method of ensuring the employee and the HR department have the information required.

  • IT requests - implementing automation in the IT department has significant benefits. IT hospital staff are stretched so having automated workflows for different types of requests can save time and automatically route tasks such as provisioning software access requests, and disabling IT system accounts and IT hardware support tickets to the correct people quickly. Tasks are automatically assigned to the correct people reducing the human element, reducing administrative burden and enabling efficiencies.

  • Procurement processes - procurement processes are notoriously complex and often manual. When the purchase requisition process is automated clinicians can get on with what they do best and rest assured that the administrative necessities are taken care of in the background while they attend to patients.

The UK Procurement Act (coming into effect in October 2024) will force hospitals and Trusts to review their processes to ensure consistency.

One of our clients has rolled out our Digital Process Automation solution across their 9 trusts to ensure optimal procurement processing cost-effectively.

NHS Quote - Healthcare Automation


What can be Automated in Healthcare? (key areas) 

Healthcare Trial - Automation in HealthcareThe beauty of automation in healthcare is that any manual process, simple or complex, can be automated. Digital Process Automation within healthcare systems supports many administrative processes such as procurement tasks, HR processes, finance procedures and IT requirements.

Any manual process that requires human intervention before the specific task can move to the next stage in the overall workflow, benefits from automation in healthcare.

The benefits of automated processes in healthcare services can be substantial in terms of cost savings, the reduction in administrative burden, human and medical errors, and the ability to free up time for clinicians to focus on what matters most - patient care.

I work with many healthcare organizations that are reaping the benefits of process automation of time-consuming tasks by implementing healthcare process improvement strategies.

The positive outcomes are a game-changer and contribute significantly to unlocking cost savings, optimizing processes, and overall employee and patient satisfaction.

An NHS success story

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has digitalized 70+ processes across its organization to date with a team of IT super users who continue to coach business users across their hospital to digitize the processes that help them optimize patient care.

NHS Use Cases - Automation in Healthcare

Benefits of Healthcare Automation - (Patients and Healthcare Organizations) 

  • Cost savings unlocked

  • Efficient consistent processes

  • Intuitive, fit for purpose, systems that eliminate the administrative burden

  • Compliance adherence

  • Enhanced patient care and patient outcomes

  • Enhanced patient satisfaction and patient experience

  • Attract and retain healthcare employees (through digital processes)

Challenges of Automation in Healthcare 

The challenges of automation in healthcare can vary. Some automation tools can have an expensive price tag attached so careful consideration is required when selecting the right solution for your healthcare organization.

Budget can be a prohibitor

While healthcare automation is highly sought after some IT teams either do not have the budget to look at solutions to fill the gaps they have or are forced to use the tools they have (i.e. Power Apps or Power Automate) which often fall short.

Skillsets can be problematic

Some hospitals in the healthcare industry are inhibited by the skill set of their employees and skills shortage challenges. They need a no code solution rather than a low code option. A no code solution allows IT staff to delegate the automation of workflows to business users, freeing up time for them to focus on more strategic initiatives and empowering process owners to be innovative and create the process they need versus what IT personnel think they need.

Conclusion 

Healthcare Automation Next StepThe writing is on the wall, if you need efficiency, effectiveness and enhanced customer satisfaction in your healthcare facilities then you should consider the benefits of automated solutions. 

Clinicians and administrative healthcare personnel ultimately want to enhance the overall patient experience.

Healthcare providers need to be cognizant of reducing repetitive tasks, and medical errors and staying within the budget allocated for 'Business as usual' AND 'Innovation' IT spending.

How to take the next step

I encourage you to talk with one of our experienced Healthcare process automation specialists. Book a Demo today and explore what's possible.

Book a demo

Shay O'Connor, Head of Solutions

Shay O'Connor is the Head of Solutions at FlowForma. With over 25 years' experience in the technology sector and a drive for innovation Shay is one of our FlowForma Product Experts.

Shay O'Connor, Head of Solutions

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