Improving healthcare efficiencies and experiences through automation

By UiPath

Opportunities to optimise operations and resources in the healthcare sector are just around the corner, thanks to the growing adoption of AI-powered automation, says Jason Warrelmann, VP Global Services & Healthcare at UiPath.

Documents that number 250 million a year, clinical tasks that number 1.2 million a year, are part of the heavy administrative and operational burden that an average health system deals with. Adopting automation can help to ease workloads and free up resources for more meaningful patient-care tasks. Image: Canva

The average large hospital system ingests 250 million documents a year, the average health system processes 1.2 million clinical tasks a year, and clinical staff spend about two hours on administrative work for every patient seen.

These were just some of the statistics behind optimisation opportunities that abound for the healthcare sector, which is on the cusp of wider adoption of AI-powered automation.

Jason Warrelmann, VP Global Services & Healthcare for leading enterprise automation software company UiPath, shared these figures during a healthcare summit that featured industry case studies and best practices last December.

And while Warrelmann and other speakers highlighted the challenges and potential time and cost savings that automation could bring about, such as in optimising electronic medical records (EMRs) or processing lab test results, as well as speeding up decision-making on future appointments and procedures for patients, they all highlighted the importance of “experience”.

The goal of implementing automation solutions in healthcare, which can save millions or even billions of dollars, is to ultimately improve the experiences of administrators, clinicians and patients.

Ticking off boxes

When patients go to a clinic for an appointment, it’s not uncommon for them to notice their doctors typing away on their computers during the consultation.

“Most of the time, they were checking boxes off and verifying [prior tests and procedures] were done,” said Warrelmann. “It was like a to-do list to know what was done and what wasn’t. But hospital systems realised this wasn’t the best experience for the patient.”

In some cases, this workload was shifted onto nurses and administrators, which only added to the burden of their everyday tasks.

One healthcare provider in the United States, Kaiser Permanente, was concerned enough about this situation to engage UiPath to automate the process, such that the automation is able to check boxes and free administrators and clinicians from having to create these pre-visit summaries.

“[The automation] doesn’t make the decision for the clinician. It just gives clinicians insights so that when they meet the patient, they can provide reactive care.”

According to Warrelmann, Kaiser expects to achieve automation-derived cost savings of up to US$1 billion by 2030.

How SGH is embracing digital automation

Singapore General Hospital (SGH) started its digital automation journey in 2020.

Since then, it has completed 40 robotic process automation projects, saving more than 64,000 man-hours and generating approximately $2.3 million in cumulative productivity gains.

Chia Kuok Wei, who drives the Artificial Intelligence & Automation (AIA) unit under the Department of Future Health System, spoke at the summit about a town hall session years ago at SGH, where his team shared the first few automation use cases that generated organisation-wide buy-in.

“Those first few cases, we were able to script and go live pretty quickly,” said Chia, an Assistant Director with SGH.

“Since the town hall and further shout-out about these cases, there has really been no turning back – at one point, we received more than 100 potential use cases for automation.”

To meet the strong demand for automation, Chia added that SGH curated an in-house training programme to build automation capability, equipping more staff with the skills to script and build automation use cases.

Iffat Mohamad Rafi, also with SGH’s AIA team, highlighted one of the unit’s most exciting projects, which helps to optimise healthcare resources and frees clinicians up for more meaningful patient-care tasks.

Through automation, the results of prostate cancer patients’ annual blood tests – required to monitor their post-surgery condition – are sorted based on rules pre-determined by clinicians.

A bot will notify patients with normal results automatically via SMS to repeat the blood test in the coming year. It will also notify the clinicians of patients with abnormal test results to schedule a consultation with the patient.

“In early 2024, a small group of patients will be onboarded to this new monitoring workflow,” he said. “And we’ve already received interest from other clinical departments in this new way of monitoring our patients.”

Mapping out a patient journey

“Every health organisation, whether private or commercial, is trying to figure out how to map out a patient journey from the day that they're born, to potentially the day that they have to go into a home-health clinic and be taken care of as a senior citizen,” said Warrelmann.

“These are challenges that every organisation and public health organisation is looking at, because they want to look at the lifecycle of every citizen inside their constituency, so that's a huge challenge. It takes a lot of data.”

And while AI and automation tools can do much to help with this patient journey mapping, Angela Lim, Deputy Director, National Healthcare Group (NHG), CIO Office (Innovation), warned that technology is not a “silver bullet” for every issue moving forward.

Speaking on a panel discussion to close the summit, she offered a unique take.

“My advice is to manage your management,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience.

“Sometimes, management tends to jump onto every new technology that comes along. With automation and AI, they need to be cognisant of the challenges [brought on] by them.”

She added that some healthcare professionals fear that automation will displace their jobs.

“So, they need to know that this technology is being deployed to help them with their daily work, to help them focus on higher-value work,” said Lim, who echoed the "people-first" perspective of her fellow speakers, who included Alvin Ang, CIO for Vanguard Healthcare, and Harry Chan, Assistant Vice President, IT, IHH Healthcare Singapore.

“When it comes to automation. I keep using this word ‘experience’,” said Warrelmann. “Don't build automation around requirements. Build it around the experience of the clinician or the administrator.”