Solving Healthcare Backlogs: Robotic Process Automation

In the latest in our Consultancy & Advisory thought-leadership series, we take a look at some of the latest developments from our resident technology expert, Jordan Reinhardt. As Director of Information Services with RelateCare, Jordan is uniquely positioned to offer key insights into how we can leverage technology to improve patient access for our client partners.

In the interview below, Jordan takes us on a journey into the role of Robotic Process Automation in addressing the healthcare backlog challenges in post-COVID world.

What are some of the biggest challenges we are hearing from our partners and clients today?

“I think there is little doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing all health systems at the moment is a massive backlog of elective and specialty appointments.

Throughout the pandemic, hospitals and healthcare providers postponed most, if not all, elective procedures in order to reduce the spread of the disease and devote capacity to treating those with COVID-19. This was the right thing to do at the time, but the downstream effect is an extensive backlog within the healthcare system combined with limited resources to process patient access tasks.

A secondary challenge is now hindering the healthcare system’s ability to leverage technology in the form of cybersecurity threats, such as ransomware.  This added layer of complexity and concern requires a new approach in how to address patient access to care.”

Can we use technology to help solve these problems?

“The short answer is yes, but due to a number of complicating factors that need to be considered, it’s not as simple as it seems.

In response to the pandemic, many healthcare contact centers shifted to a remote-working scenario. Having staff work from home allowed contact centers to continue to operate while keeping employees safe.

One of the unforeseen implications of this was increased vulnerability to cyber security threats. Attackers used the COVID-19 disruption and “human factors” of remote working as an opportunity to attack health systems. This, in turn, led to further shutdowns within technology systems, and a lack of systems integration.

So, we recommend clients look to automate processes where possible while maintaining strict focus on how we address any security issues.”

What do you mean systems integration?

“Systems Integration is essentially where you have two or more platforms communicating openly in order to automate tasks in bulk (for example, a referral entry process).  However, cybersecurity incidents typically result in disabling such integrations until the vulnerability is resolved as the overall solution is only as strong as the weakest platform.

At a time when we need to process patient transactions at an increased rate, systems were hampered by these shut downs”.

And this is a further challenge to dealing with the current volume of patient appointments and elective procedures?

“Yes. We have all of these patients, appointments, and procedures that need to be handled, while we have the technological infrastructure attack.  When combined with recruitment challenges, solutions around automation become self-evident.  It is the journey toward automation that must be determined by thorough investigation and planning.

A challenge for all of us involved in patient access is how we manage front end access to services while maintaining backend processes with limited resources while operating secure systems that can properly address security concerns.”

What is RelateCare’s approach to this challenge?

“RelateCare provides consulting and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as an effective solution to assist in managing this increased volume of appointments. RPA provides a solution that introduces a certain level of automation but does so without increasing the risk that comes with traditional systems integration.

RPA is the use of virtual workers or “Bots” that are programmed to do specific tasks within existing workflows.  For example, insurance authorizations and referrals management— anything that has a list or work queue—are key areas where RPA can provide great assistance in a secure manner.

RelateCare’s approach to RPA allows us to support deployment without any infrastructure spend as we leverage the same points of access that agents already utilize.”

Can you explain a bit more about how Robotic Process Automation works?

“RelateCare’s approach for RPA is to deploy and teach the virtual worker how to accomplish their tasks just as you would with employees.  To get to this point, however, a clear and in-depth understanding of how tasks are accomplished is required.

From a healthcare perspective, we can see where there are multiple, repetitive, administrative tasks suited to automation.  When automated we see improved completion rates and reduced error rates.  It also allows staff to focus on tasks that better leverage their training and skillsets.

RelateCare’s RPA approach maintains security by emulating the existing remote worker models that healthcare systems employ today, such as Citrix or VMware VDI, following the “least permissions” model for remote staff as well as RPA.

Beyond volume processing, RPA can assist other patient access functions in tandem with various contact center solutions to improve staff productivity and patient experience.  One such area is the ability to blend inbound and outbound activities into a single practice.

How effective is this approach in dealing with the backlogs or volume?

Bots do not require breaks and only ever follow defined processes, leaving complex work to be reviewed by staff.  Additionally, each task requires a fraction of the time that a human requires to navigate, observe, and process.  Based on these factors, healthcare systems can expect results the same month that a robot is fully commissioned.

From a security perspective:  RPA improves compliance and efficiency while maintaining an organization’s existing cyber security requirements.  This is achieved through RelateCare’s approach to virtual co-sourcing, wherein RelateCare hosts the robots (virtual workforce). The robot sits in our infrastructure, operates a virtual machine, and processes requests just like a remote worker would.”

Jordan Reinhardt, Director of Information Services.

For over 15 years, Jordan, with a Unified Communications and Contact Center Technology background, has provided in-depth services as a Systems Engineer, Solutions Architect, and Technical Manager for best-in-class technology manufacturers and vendors, such as Avaya, VMware, and others to guide clients through successful deployment and optimization of forward-looking technologies through intelligent and comprehensive business application mapping as well as in-depth knowledge of standards-based protocols.  Within RelateCare, Jordan manages an extensive array of Information Technology applications and services capable of processing over 1 million contacts per month while continuing client support through best-practice design and consultation services across the healthcare industry.