June 06, 2019
By: Aaron Kull

Efficient, scalable operations are key to driving profitable growth in the healthcare sector, and efficiency is a core capability required to serve internal clients and meet patient care needs. For organizations continually seeking opportunities to expand their footprint while reducing their cost to serve, automation and applied intelligence have the potential to be a windfall opportunity. While organizations across many industries have been successful at leveraging automation to scale their business, the healthcare provider industry has been slower to implement this technology.

Our new research has revealed that just 25 percent of healthcare organizations have adopted scalable or fully deployed robotic process automation tools, compared with 61 percent of their peers in other sectors. The healthcare industry faces several unique challenges in scaling automation, including a low degree of standardization, and a high degree of fragmentation of both processes and technologies, many times the result of acquisitive activity that has been the trend of the last decade. As healthcare organizations face the pressures of declining reimbursement and an increasingly competitive market, dedicating effort and investment towards robotics with unproven returns may fall to a lower priority.

Embracing the opportunity

Healthcare organizations and CFOs do, however, understand that automation technology is an opportunity. Our research showed that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of CFOs agree that automation creates an opportunity to focus on providing higher-quality information, reporting and insights to support the rest of the organization. As staff spend less time on manual and repetitive tasks, resources can be freed up for more value-adding work.

However, there is more work to be done helping providers understand how to get value out of automation. In the near term, adoption rates appear to be incremental. Healthcare CFOs anticipate being able to apply robotics to 42 percent of their finance processes in the next three years, compared to 33 percent of processes today. They also appear to be taking a relatively narrow view of the benefits of automation, with 81 percent agreeing that automation will yield a stepwise improvement in efficiency, rather than a dramatic transformation.

Preparing for automation

Adopting automation requires the organization to be committed to a roadmap for improvement and efficiency that includes operations and technology. The organization must have the vision, capability and business case to motivate stakeholders around a shift towards automation. A key to driving value is building scalable automation, which requires a level of standardization and quality in process and data on which automation can be deployed.

  • Digital vision. A vision and road map of digital priorities near and long term will help determine how to prioritize initiatives, including automation, and projected business value. This vision will also inform the organization where they can automate and what automation partners might be best to consider for the enterprise.
  • Business Case. Making the transition to automation will require a business case defining the value to be gained not only through improved speed and efficiency, but also in the shift of people away from transactional work to higher-value-added activities.
  • Capabilities. Resources and capital will be needed to implement new software solutions and bring them to scale within the organization. Emerging automation platforms require capabilities to be built from scratch within the organization, or otherwise obtained through partnership or purchase. These requirements in capital and resources, as well as time and energy, may be competing with other high priority organizational initiatives and may challenge the case for automation.
  • Standardization of process and data. Substantial numbers of CFOs say standardization is a real challenge, which is fundamental to profitable automation. Variances in processes, tools and functions will require more specialized automation build that cannot be deployed as widely and may require heavy ongoing support.

Enabling new value

Automation is one solution that aims to enable human resources to perform at their highest and best level of skill and capability, while leveraging non-human resources to extend overall capacity. Automating mundane and repeatable tasks will help the organization meet its growth objectives while also enabling an upskill in current and future employees as more of their job is focused around critical tasks.

With automation technology solutions growing in adoption within other industries, now is the time for healthcare enterprises to develop plans to reap significant benefits as well.

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