Blog | Jun 21, 2022

Transforming Patient Experience with Intelligent Automation

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At a recent event hosted by Blue Prism, I had the opportunity of sharing with healthcare providers on how intelligent automation is changing the way they provide patient experience. Joining me in this session is my colleague, Priyanka Jha Goel, Alliance Director for SS&C Blue Prism, who is also the host and our guest speakers - Darren Toh, Director for Digital Platforms at Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), Jason Ku, Director of Professional Services at SimplifyNext, and Mayank Gupta, Managing Director of SimplifyNext.

The healthcare industry has just faced the greatest challenge that it has ever experienced, and which has become one of the biggest drivers for post-pandemic change. A lot of issues had been top of the list for a while, such as improving patient outcomes, lowering costs and bolstering staff morale, but are now even more critical factors, Intelligent Automation has been proven as a solid foundation for success.

Intelligent automation success in action

One example is Alberta Health System, a $14 billion publicly traded organisation that offers health care services to over four million people in Western Canada. Alberta’s mission was to use intelligent automation to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of its services with a digital workforce. It formed a centre of excellence for intelligent automation, which was tasked with returning capacity back to the business and improving quality and patient customer experience.

A second example is Banner Health, which has 50,000 employees operating in the southwest of the USA. It also operates an insurance plan, and partners with other academic institutions on oncology care, as well as supporting several rural communities.

Like Alberta, Banner has introduced intelligent automation gradually, beginning in the pharmacy and validating prescription orders that were missing certain data. Digital workers reviewed about 200,000 records and found an additional $2 million in revenue. After this, Banner moved on to additional automation projects including those relating to short term disabilities, employee benefits, oncology services, PPE, telehealth and COVID vaccines.

Mass General is another large health system with about 74,000 employees in the northeast of the USA. It wanted to free up individuals with healthcare knowledge and experience to focus on contact with patients and followed up with additional areas for improvement in finance and HR, as well as in research and the supply chain.

“Its focus now is on processes that improve the forward movement of patients, and that's where we start talking about referrals that clog up the system and prevent timely appointments, transport or discharges,” said Lovelace.

The UK’s NHS is probably the most documented client from an intelligent automation healthcare journey point of view, he explained. It employs hundreds of digital workers across about 70 trusts in the NHS, and automation touches nearly every department.

Taking a top-down view

We like to take a top-down approach to intelligent automation and how it aligns with an organization's key strategy. In life sciences, for example, one of the major companies is looking at how to reduce the cost of goods sold. HR, supply chain, ERP and finance are cross industry capabilities that every vertical needs to address. They are great places to start with intelligent automation to get experience before moving on to more advanced areas.

Customer experience is not a one-off occurrence, but a collection of events. Therefore, a top-down approach provides the opportunity to view and reengineer all the workflows involved according to desired outcomes.

From a nursing perspective, an end goal might be to help the patient better manage a disease condition. The burden here is on the nurse as well as the patient, because if a provider is bogged down by administrative workflows, they have less time to spend with the patients.

Patients also expect new digital pathways in healthcare as they experience in other sectors. One of the fastest growing areas for intelligent automation in healthcare is in and around contact centres, which receive high volumes of questions and requests for services.

Digital workers support virtual channels that patients can use to enter the hospital or book appointments, which further augments the agent's ability to support callers in a timely fashion. Intelligent automation serves up options to a patient but can also be used to predict a patient's needs and proactively offer services.

For example, in the US, mammograms do not require a physician's order. Healthcare organisations can use digital workers to see where patients are of the right age and demographic, then invite them to come in and have their annual check-up. Another example would be identifying diabetics in a cohort of patients who haven't had their blood tests in over a year.

Automating pre-arrival checks

Pre arrival is one of the biggest areas of focus in the US and has been a top priority for automation, said Lovelace. It is usually a very high-volume service line that is spread out across an organization and is applied to all upcoming appointments 24 or 48 hours before the patient comes in. It’s a combination of financial checks and balances, such as making sure patients are eligible for a service.

Patients also need to be fully informed about the correct preparation, the appointment time, what time to arrive and the location. Pre arrival provides an opportunity to improve patients’ experience by reducing friction between scheduling an appointment and arriving at the facility.

Sticking with the theme of appointments, a long delay or wait to be seen by a medical provider can impact the patient's perception of their experience, especially if they're sick. The NHS in the UK has tackled this challenge by automating inbound general practitioner referrals for a patient to see a specialist, Lovelace explained.

Digital workers now actively monitor all incoming referrals from general practitioners, then extract the reason for the appointment. They add the diagnosis code and other clinical supporting documents, collate them into one form and enter it back into the hospital system, which passes it on to the lead consultant.

Appointment no shows are another challenge because slots go unused. The NHS estimated that every missed outpatient appointment that was cancelled cost them about £160, which adds up over time. Now patients can cancel appointments directly from an appointment reminder. Digital workers can then alert contact centre staff to offer it to the next person in line.

Onboarding clinicians is another good example of where automation adds value. This about checking clinician’s licensure, but also getting clinicians on boarded in a very quick time period and crucially, none of the checks can be omitted.

The key word we hear all the time is interoperability. And in our view, healthcare automation, particularly intelligent automation, is all about that interoperability between people and systems, as well as a digital workforce.

Moving automation to the next level

Joining me on the virtual stage, Jason explained that intelligent automation is not a new technology but has been heavily skewed and weighted towards cost-savings. This has changed considerably over the past 12 to 18 months, he said, moving from costs and productivity to focus on elements such as patient experience, claim cycle times, and staff engagement.

Traditionally, healthcare organizations have looked at back-office functions for automation, including finance, HR procurement and supply chain management, but they have now moved on to look at more patient facing functions, where there is a greater need.

Typically, organizations look at the quick wins first: low complexity processes that yield a lot of benefits, Jason said. They then move on to simple checks and identification of documents, and on further to scaling or strategic phases, where they achieve more complex automation.

After that they might identify use cases where they would do some form of predictive analysis in terms of test results, or occupancy rates, or duration times. In procurement, they can detect fraud and abuses of claims, for example.

“We are moving away from process driven and structured data into data driven and unstructured data automation,” Jason explained. “And this is where organizations need to infuse some automation tool sets and techniques with AI and machine learning capabilities.”

It has been difficult to automate data extraction from hundreds of vendors’ test results, for example. But AI and machine learning are now helping organizations improve productivity, because they don’t need to create an automation template for every format. Instead, they can use standard tool sets to extract critical information from vaccination records, drug testing results, medical documents, and finance documents.

Automating healthcare in Singapore

During a wider panel discussion, Darren Toh discussed Singapore's public health care system and its use of automation technologies. “We look to use digital workers to perform very labour intensive, time consuming and repetitive tasks such as checking inboxes,” he said. “They handle operational processes such as getting adjustments, waiver requests from patients and checking these against the costing system.”

Intelligent automation came into its own during the pandemic as digital workers could perform very high-volume transactions and automate various systems for recording and monitoring purposes, said Darren. It makes sense to pick high volume, manual and time-consuming work and take it away from healthcare professionals so they can focus on higher value work.

In the next five to 10 years, automation will increase and play a more important part in healthcare, added Darren. This will be particularly the case with fiscal processes such as procurement, invoicing, and approvals. And it will be important to use digital workers to better improve patient experiences as well as employee experiences, especially with challenge of losing healthcare staff globally due to stress levels.

Darren agreed with Jason that more advanced technology such as AI will help make digital workers smarter, instead of just being able to do the very manual repetitive tasks. “We will start to experiment whether or not they start to can take on some decision-making processes that currently require a human. But obviously that requires a lot more time and testing.”

Mayank Gupta added that he has seen a lot more automation in the past 12 to 18 months. “We've started to see a broad base adoption of automation across both public as well as private healthcare, particularly in traditional automation areas like finance and procurement. However, I think we are still in the early phase of our automation journey within the healthcare sector.”

Technology and service providers in the automation space need to do a bit more to get a better understanding of healthcare processes and healthcare systems, added Mayank. “If we do that, then we'll be able to work more closely with various healthcare institutions to help them automate.”

Mayank then gave the example of providing transparency and access to historic data to radiographers in terms of scans and X-rays. Instead of moving between different systems, they should be able to see everything on a single screen, so they are not spending 15 minutes just looking for information.

Finally, on the 360-degree view of patient journeys, providers need to understand when automating processes. This depends on the level of maturity with automation and the size of an organization. Bringing international shared services back in-house and automating processes has brought financial benefits for large pharma companies, for example.

Other than that, the biggest value we're seeing involves assisting contact centres that currently take in huge volumes of calls and are multi-tasking back and forth into different systems to answer questions. Digital workers give patients an omni channel entry point, but also get contact centre agents out of swivel chair work to spend more time with patients.

The key word we hear all the time is interoperability. And in our view, healthcare automation, particularly intelligent automation, is all about that interoperability between people and systems, as well as a digital workforce.

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