Few use cases have a more immediate positive impact on a human level as automating processes in the healthcare sector. Hospital and healthcare administrations have high data value, rely on security of implementation for patient safety and have a relatively large number of confirmation checks to ensure the process is implemented correctly. In addition, hospitals have a large number of transactions per year and need to contain administration as a percentage of overall costs. Automation helps streamline these processes and allows staff to focus attention and resources on the most important part of their job: patients.
WorkFusion customer Owen Bonner is the founder of Irish consultancy firm OneSquare RPA, which focuses on automation for the healthcare sector. He’s currently implementing automation using RPA Express Pro* for a large hospital in Ireland. We asked him to tell us about designing a business process that would give dialysis patients faster and better care.
Why did you select WorkFusion RPA Express Pro?
We evaluated several alternatives before selecting WorkFusion as the preferred platform. There were a number of reasons, including:
- Future-orientated package from WorkFusion goes all the way from simple orchestration to machine learning systems with complex functionality
- Responsive and vibrant user community and support in the Forum
- Cost solutions that allow the whole customer value chain to be addressed, ranging from RPA Express to complex SPA solutions
What was your prior automation experience?
Prior to founding OneSquare, my exposure to RPA was as the manager of a department in a financial institution. There, some of the services were provided by a robotics solution from a WorkFusion competitor. In financial services, the typical driver is to create value with automation by carrying out large numbers of similar transactions that have relatively low overall value. The value calculation is often driven (at least in initial deployments) as Value = Number of Transactions (high) times Transaction Value (low). Then, the cost of implementation is judged against the value generated. In healthcare, the calculation is somewhat different, in that the number of transactions is low (relative to financial services) but the value of each transaction is typically higher. In addition, the value of having a robot execute the process reliably provides a level of confirmation that is also advantageous to the sector.
Could you tell us about the business process you selected to automate with RPA Express?
The process is a triage of monthly blood tests for medically relevant readings. Our customer is one of the largest university teaching hospitals in Ireland and serves as the supra-regional center for a population of 1.1 million people.
Every month, patients who are on dialysis attend a clinic to have their blood analyzed. Patients attend the clinic in the morning and then have their regular dialysis treatment. During that time, the lab processes results which are then read by doctors, dietitians and nursing staff. If the results show an adverse reading, the dietitian will meet with the patient in order to discuss his or her condition and possibly change a regime in order to correct the result.
What was the challenge the automation solved?
The challenge for the medical staff is a large number of patients to be analyzed per day, with results from the lab being updated on a continuous basis. They have to access multiple systems in order to view the results as well as conducting regular clinic and care duties during the day. Because of this, patients have often completed treatment and left the hospital before their tests have been triaged, so if an issue has arisen, they will either need to return to the hospital or have a consultation by telephone.
Overall, these were the most important factors to consider:
- Triage process is time-critical, as it is best to talk to a patient in the hospital, rather than by phone or at a separate appointment.
- Results require up to eight parameters be examined and triaged for adverse readings. On busy days, this could lead to a reading being missed.
- Dietitians spend up to a third of their day triaging results rather than treating patients. By freeing this time, they can treat more patients or give more time to those who need it.
- Process to triage varies greatly from one person to another.
How could RPA Express improve the process?
The department wanted to have an automated solution that would load the list of patients for a particular day and then poll the lab system for the results as they became available. These results would then be compared against known limits for each measurement. Any anomaly is saved in a priority examination file that can be accessed by staff. In this way, the bot acts as a decision support tool for the hospital by helping focus attention where it is needed and allowing staff to notify patients who are outside of normal result ranges as soon as possible.
The robot will be able to improve this process by:
- Automating collection of the patient list for that day
- Checking frequently for the up-to-date lab reading
- Comparing that reading against the standard
- Producing a summary sheet that highlights patients requiring further investigation in an easy-to-use spreadsheet view
What did the redesign of the process look like?
The process evaluation and redesign is progressing as follows:
- Evaluate the process for automation suitability by viewing the process in operation and interviewing key staff
- Produce a report highlighting systems used and any anticipated challenges, as well as expected benefits
- Conduct a medical risk assessment to highlight areas of potential risk that need to be addressed
- Redesign the process to allow data collection by the robot and triage against controlled limits
- Manually execute the process as the robot would, with automation and medical personnel taking the place of the robot
- Evaluate the manual execution for effectiveness and usability
- Sign off the risk assessment and automated process for execution
- Process execution and “hypercare” where the robot carries out its work in parallel with the existing process
- Transfer to a fully automated execution once any issues that arise are resolved
What are your personal takeaways from this experience?
- The process of introducing a bot to a new sector is slow and you need patience to gain traction. We implementors need to remember the technology is far outside the experience of our potential customers in most non-financial/insurance sectors, and that they will take some time to gain a sufficient understanding of the technology, sometimes even before they can progress to the stage of evaluating the benefits. Be patient!
- Your process to evaluate, implement and introduce the technology needs to be clear and defined upfront so that customers get an early appreciation of your skills and experience dealing with problems like theirs. This will help guide you and them through a very unfamiliar landscape towards the automated solution. Be prepared!
- A formalized risk assessment process is invaluable early in the process design to highlight confirmation / risk-reduction steps needed. It can also be a tool to overcome objections to the technology from those that are resistant to change. Listen to the experts!
So in summary, especially in a healthcare setting:
- Be patient
- Be prepared
- Let the experts help
* RPA Express is no longer included in WorkFusion’s product offering.
Also published on Medium.