It is no secret that the past 2 years have brought about major changes, not only in our personal lives, but in the ways that we manage our practices. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, new patient expectations, staffing shortages, and an increased demand for online access and capabilities have required medical practices to adapt, and do so at a record pace. Although they have risen to the challenge, the growing number of administrative tasks that must be performed each day has led to stress and burnout among staff members and contributed to significant financial burden.1
In this article, we discuss innovative solutions that can be used to help streamline processes in your practice, with the goal of mitigating stress and freeing up valuable time and revenue that can be dedicated to direct patient care.
Innovative Technologies for Streamlining Processes
Robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) are 2 innovative technologies that can have a positive impact on healthcare practices by helping them to increase patient satisfaction, improve staff morale, and reduce costs. Although there are some similarities between RPA and AI, there are important differences between these 2 technologies that must be understood.
IBM Cloud Education explains a critical difference between RPA and AI as follows2:
The critical difference is that RPA is process-driven, whereas AI is data-driven. RPA bots can only follow the processes defined by an end user, while AI bots use machine learning to recognize patterns in data, in particular unstructured data, and learn over time. Put differently, AI is intended to simulate human intelligence, while RPA is solely for replicating human-directed tasks. While the use of artificial intelligence and RPA tools minimize the need for human intervention, the way in which they automate processes is different.
Robotic Process Automation
Many of the administrative tasks performed in a medical practice setting are repetitive and do not require any specialized knowledge base. RPA, also known as software robotics, uses automation technologies to mimic back-office tasks typically performed by human workers, such as extracting data, filling in forms, and moving files.2 In addition to the automation of such things as data entry, RPA can make a significant impact on more time-consuming tasks, including appointment scheduling, billing, and even prior authorization.
For example, RPA can reduce the time spent on prior authorization submissions by automating the transfer of data between systems, while simultaneously eliminating the need for manual status checks on submitted prior authorizations. Similar to billing clearinghouses, RPA technology is such that it can also recognize any potential coding errors that could result in a denied prior authorization, which can cause significant distress for patients who are waiting to find out whether a particular treatment or procedure will be approved.
AI includes technology or systems that, through information gathering, mimic human intelligence processes by computer systems. These processes include learning (acquiring information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using context and rules to come to conclusions), and self-correction (learning through successes and failures).
AI is not intended to replace staff or providers; rather it should be used to help reduce the administrative workload and allow the healthcare team to use their talents and strengths more efficiently. There are several areas where AI can be of tremendous help, such as assisting providers in making a diagnosis or interpreting patient data.
One important component of the AI world is the virtual assistant, which can make it easier for staff members to perform daily administrative tasks. Apple’s Siri is probably the most recognized and utilized virtual assistant in the world.
How can virtual assistants help in the healthcare setting? They can be used to answer patient questions via e-mail or telephone, schedule appointments, and send reminders, to name just a few of their capabilities. In essence, they have the potential to offer a far greater personalized experience to patients by reducing certain administrative tasks so that staff can focus on direct care.
The pandemic brought with it additional daily challenges that have significantly increased staffing burnout and stress. Innovative technologies can go a long way in mitigating some of these burdens by streamlining administrative tasks currently performed by our teams. As healthcare administrators, we can only benefit by investing in RPA and AI, as they can have a direct impact on the workload of our staff as well as the care of our patients.
- CAQH. 2017 CAQH index: a report of healthcare industry adoption of electronic business transactions and cost savings. 2018. www.caqh.org/sites/default/files/explorations/index/report/2017-caqh-index-report.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2022.
- IBM Cloud Education. Robotic process automation. October 22, 2020. www.ibm.com/cloud/learn/rpa. Accessed April 18, 2022.