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Robotic Process Automation in Healthcare: Part 2
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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In last week’s blog post, we reviewed the potential of robotic process automation (RPA) to improve workflow in the healthcare industry. But adoption is not without challenges. No doubt, the single greatest challenge will be getting buy-in from key players. Depending on the size of the organization, this might mean making a pitch to the CEO or specific frontline managers. 

More importantly, cooperation from—and coordination with—the folks in IT will be critical. Indeed, getting RPA off the ground depends on IT, but leaders will have several worries. For instance, IT may fear that implementation will require major infrastructure changes. In addition, most IT experts can be protective of data security and system integrity, and RPA can intrude on their area of expertise. Another IT-related concern is customization, which requires funding, and making updates to system functionality can become expensive. 

Before your organization heads down the path of RPA implementation, let’s review some common hurdles.

Time Constraints and Red Tape

If your organization is going to outsource RPA implementation, there will be numerous contracts, legalities, and other red tape to manage. It also may take longer to get everything up and running because the vendor selection process typically requires competitive bidding, provider evaluations, and negotiations—all before the actual implementation can actually begin.

Technological Limitations

To be competitive, outsourced RPA providers must be able to offer a robust, enterprise-level global solution that they can scale for any size client. This means that the robotic software technologies they rely on may be limited in particular ways. This is not to imply that the offering is always a one-size-fits-all approach, but you might not have as many options to choose from as with more advanced or emerging technologies. 

Handling robotic process automation internally, however, can provide a greater degree of flexibility for some organizations. Healthcare providers that go this route will be able to choose from a wider pool of platforms, basing their selection on specific business needs.

Roles, Responsibilities, and Job Security

If an organization chooses to outsource RPA, the shift in roles and responsibilities for existing IT staff can be disruptive. Some day-to-day tasks will no longer be handled in-house, and without adequate work to go around, downsizing may become a necessity. This can lead to an overall dip in morale across the entire organization, which is never good for business. 

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On the other hand, conducting robotic process automation in-house also creates a different dynamic in the existing workforce, with tasks and roles evolving for IT. You will need to make sure everyone skills are up to the challenge, and training may be required. The good news is that efficiency levels will go up, and operating costs will decrease. Eventually, the shift to RPA will free staff up to take on more challenging work.  

Governance and Compliance

Because outsourced automation means a reduction in human processes and activities, the benefits to the business are more outcome-based rather than focusing on full-time equivalent. As a result, the delivery model will need to rely heavily on customer business processes. This can complicate the internal governance process because any unanticipated changes could potentially influence automated workflow. 

You will need to design workflow governance and compliance structures to incorporate complete transparency of any business process changes. Without an adequate plan in place, a potential disruption could cause significant problems for the business. Handling RPA in-house can mitigate some of these issues.

Moving Forward

Dan Housman, chief technology officer at ConvergeHealth by Deloitte, states in the HIT Leaders and News article, “The idea behind moving administrative work in healthcare from a human to a bot is worth thinking about.” For instance, the numerous processes for documenting barcodes from medication, supplies, and other products could benefit from reducing tedious hours of data input and into 15 to 20 minutes of work. 

But like any other tech implementation or change management initiative, organizations must look at how new processes, tools, and behaviors that will affect the environment. What’s more, the move to automation can create fear—and reduce productivity of individual workers. 

An essential step to overcoming the challenges of an RPA implementation is to involve all staff in the discussion. Leaders and management need to clearly communicate new demands and expectations, as well as how they plan to address staff concerns. Some key questions they will want to answer are “What changes does the organization really seek?” and “What skill development and training will be made available for employees as their roles and tasks transition?” 

Clearly, RPA’s capture approach to dealing with complexity in healthcare can lead to new solutions to major issues like revenue cycle management. But organizations need to study closely the impact this implementation will have on employees. In addition, the financial ramifications and return on investment of hybrid and fully automated environments need to be explored by key stakeholders. 

About the Author
Dr. Arturo Perez is a well-respected healthcare technology executive with more than 20 years’ experience in the healthcare, technology, and education industries. He has lead teams through the implementation and automation of procedural services for healthcare organizations. He also conducted a study on understanding the readiness of clinical personnel to change as technology and clinical information systems were integrated to improve the functionality of clinical care and practice. 
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