The Age of Bots for Healthcare – Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
By Hamed Abbaszadegan, Chief Health Innovation & Informatics Officer, Phoenix VA Health Care System
BOTS! Love them or hate them, but they have been in existence for ~ 50 years based on some estimates. In simplistic terms, a Bot is a software robot (“Robotic”) that is given instructions (“Process”) to perform (“Automation”). Therefore, RPA is written rules/instructions you tell a software to do in an automated manner.
In this day and age, you have probably recently encountered software robots as chatbots. These chatbots may have scheduled an appointment for you or even performed a task such as booking a hotel room. Beyond chatting, you might have tried to buy tickets to a concert/game or purchase a certain clothing item (such as the notorious streetwear brand Supreme) only to get beat out by someone who deployed a bot. Leveraging bots allows you to tell the application software to complete a transaction in <1 second. My personal online transaction time is about 15-20 seconds, so I often do not get the hyped item I intended to buy. Despite the annoyances many encounter with bots, they play a significant role in automating repetitive mundane tasks (copy-pasting text into structured fields on a template). Let’s explore how this applies to healthcare…
Right now, there is a lot of interest in the “Digital Front Door” for patient care. How can I prep a patient before they see a physician? Scheduling quickly comes to mind, but you can also have the RPA engine copy/paste certain health information to tee up your data at the moment you will see a physician. Imagine having your latest labs, outside records, images, and medications ready to go so that your encounter is meaningful and full of decisions in your health journey! This has yet to be realized in our current health systems. Often, we scramble to gather information at the right moment, looking through many tabs and unstructured data. Leveraging RPA could be a link to realize functional interoperability without true interoperability. You also remove having humans pull open charts and re-chart in new documentation packages. All of these mundane tasks can be completed in split seconds in the background. As electronic record keeping in healthcare continues to be burdensome, deploying Bots with RPA technology can really get the right information to the right person at the right moment in a workflow. That is the holy grail with regards to healthcare applications.
Mundane task elimination can be realized through deployed RPA. Therefore, RPA integration will be part of the new world order in healthcare that brings back the human touch!
Looking beyond the digital front door, there has been a success with the use of chatbots for procedure-related preparation. For those of you who have had a colonoscopy, you are aware that the most difficult part is the preparation, not the procedure itself. Engaging patients with automated messaging and specified “conversation” can help better troubleshoot or understand the process of preparing for any procedure. Think of this as a real-time directed FAQ based on your medical procedure. If your prep is done right, your procedure will go smoother and be of higher utility. My definition for this type of technology is simply “patient engaging applications”. Patients are being engaged in a relevant manner on the topic of interest, such as bowel prep. As you can imagine, the development in this space is red hot as you can create pathways and algorithms for so many different medical conditions, procedures, preparation, etc. Everyone wants very minimum no-shows and improved compliance with personalized health delivery.
Connecting the dots, RPA is what leads to the realization of promises of early diagnosis and improved quality of care. When health information is prompted in a structured manner to the right person, prioritization of care delivery can be realized (think of timely cancer screening) as the computer can automate the names of patients with the most risk factors. Everything comes down to how you leverage RPA for your desired outcome. Are you looking only to schedule more efficiently and prevent “no-shows” or are you seeking a wider efficient whole health approach to how your system/network delivers care? Once you determine how RPA can be leveraged, it’s up to you how you want to connect the dots.
What does the future hold for RPA? Obviously, more and more “simple” tasks will be automated. However, as we have all experienced frustrations of being on hold or misdirected by a chatbot (think credit card company calls), RPA will be a part of the wider advanced technology ecosystem that brings back the human touch. Just as “google it” hasn’t replaced expert consultation, bots can only go so far before human intervention is needed to weigh the risks/benefits of decision-making. Medicine is an art and what to do with diagnosis is complex depending on very personal circumstances. Mundane task elimination can be realized through deployed RPA. Therefore, RPA integration will be part of the new world order in healthcare that brings back the human touch!