Many Hospitals Will Implement Robotic Process Automation Within Next Few Years

Research collected over the course of last year suggests that hospitals plan to implement robotic process automation and AI technologies over the next few years.

The study, which was compiled by HIT vendor Olive, includes data collected by Sage Growth Partners at the 2019 HLTH and Becker’s Revenue Cycle conferences. Respondents included 89 executives whose roles included chief medical information officer, IT director and manager, revenue cycle manager and data analysis leader at hospital systems and independent hospitals in the US.

Olive’s research concluded that most healthcare leaders were familiar with the idea of process automation, with just 8% of respondents with the title “director” and 16% with that of “manager” reporting that they weren’t aware of such technology.

Meanwhile, surveyed hospital leaders said they viewed automation as capable of addressing several important issues, including operational redundancies and a need to free up workers to handle critical needs.

Olive found that half of hospital leaders polled plan to invest in AI and RPA, and that two-thirds of respondents expected to implement automation technology by 2021.

The research also found that hospitals may be willing to outsource the rollout of such technologies, with half of the respondents agreeing that they’d be interested in relying on an automation vendor to build, deliver, monitor and support automation within their enterprise.

Clearly, RPA has some interesting things to offer. After all, current models of HIT software development – in which the development team automates a list of actions and ties them to the back end using an API or scripting – aren’t flexible enough to meet users’ fast-evolving needs.

It’s worth noting that in response to the pandemic, some hospitals have found ways to support making quick changes to their systems. (To see a particularly telling example, check out this post explaining how the UW Medicine system put a new approach in place allowing doctors to get COVID-related software changes made quickly.)  However, not all IT departments will be prepared to redesign their development process in the foreseeable future.

Regardless, RPA could change the game.  Rather than relying on a static list of actions developers need to support, RPA systems “watch” how users interact with the application’s GUI then automate those tasks in that GUI.

Of course, every new technology starts with a halo on its head, and RPA is no exception. Still, any solution designed to build directly on users’ actual behavior has promise. HIT leaders should keep an eye out for examples of how RPA rollouts are working in other healthcare organizations and perhaps do some pilot testing. After all, if RPA can actually simplify the process of making workflow changes, it could have a dramatic impact.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.