Software for robotic process automation (RPA) employs computer code to perform repeatable and potentially complex tasks that would otherwise be performed manually by a person who had learned the tasks by rote. The active robots operate on the user interface layer—that is, at the same level as a human operator would access technology—to mimic human interactions and workflow. This feature enables robots to automate rules-based work without compromising the underlying IT infrastructure.
This technology presents both a cost advantage and a scaling opportunity to help automate disparate parts of the same organization in parallel. The cost advantage arises from the difference in the average annual license costs, on a per robot basis, compared with the average annual employee compensation. The key scaling consideration is one of complexity. Unlike other software-based technologies, such as patient accounting systems and electronic health records, overall implementation complexity does not increase with the scope of the implementation.
A virtual workforce of such software robots can perform a variety of tasks. Common applications include:
- Opening email and attachments
- Logging into web/enterprise applications
- Moving files and folders
- Copying and pasting
- Filling in forms
- Scraping data from the web
- Connecting to system application programming interfaces (APIs)
- Making calculations
- Extracting structured data from documents
- Following if-then rules
Within the realm of provider operations, cosmetically similar technologies have existed for some time and have been deployed with varying levels of success. These technologies include keystroke emulators and ad hoc Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) scripting.
Two aspects of RPA make it fundamentally different from these tools. First, RPA is interoperable across any application, website, or business productivity tool. The second difference is the ease, cost, and speed of development enabled by each robot sitting on a common RPA platform. Through these easy-to-use software platforms, organizations can develop and deploy robots using developers with only a basic understanding of programming and process structure. Taken together, these features are poised to be the key to disruptive cost reductions in health care.
Improvements Resulting From Deployment of Robotic Process Automation
Industry Drivers Accelerating the Need for Automation
A number of key trends that are shaping the future of the healthcare provider sector offer opportunities for RPA to deliver value to providers and their communities. The one certainty of the regulatory environment is that it will continue to evolve as lawmakers face the challenge of balancing cost, coverage, and outcomes. Although the exact mechanisms may be uncertain, healthcare providers expect payment models to continue to shift such that providers will bear more of the financial risks of patient care. Findings of a 2015 HFMA survey of hospital executives indicate that value-based mechanisms will affect 50 percent of commercial payments by 2018. This shift toward provider-borne risk will likely drive a continued focus on ongoing industry consolidation, margin improvement, and value-based care initiatives of which primary aims include reducing waste and improving financial and operational performance.
Catalyzed by the digital revolution that is disrupting numerous industries, the healthcare provider landscape will likely continue to shift and grow while new market entrants explore innovative business models that threaten to unseat traditional health systems. Within this dynamic market environment, providers also may place an increasing emphasis on people—both the caregivers and the consumers—with the goal of improving the healthcare experience for patients and providers. RPA may provide a means for a strategic reallocation of staff to such efforts.
Key trends for healthcare providers are likely to include the following seven areas, among others:
- Customer transformation and consumer engagement
- Strategic and regulatory risk
- Margin improvement
- Value-based care
- Growth and innovation
- Digital and tech transformation
- Talent optimization
Within the context of these industry shifts, RPA offers health systems the ability to improve operational efficiency while maintaining or increasing service levels, provided that the business activities selected are well-suited for automation. RPA excels at streamlining repetitive tasks and at bridging gaps across disparate technology systems, yielding ample opportunities for improvement across provider enterprises from supply chain through revenue cycle and clinical resource management. Provider organizations that build automation capabilities can position themselves to manage the complexities of a healthcare system characterized by exponential technology adoption rates, heightened consumer expectations, and ever-tightening cost pressures.