Improvements Achievable Through Workflow Automation in Healthcare
There have been many technological innovations in healthcare that have improved patient safety, streamlined information flow, and have helped to reduce inefficiencies, but workflow automation in healthcare is one area where there is still considerable room for improvement.
Workflow automation involves the use of technology to perform repetitive tasks, such as the use of robots in manufacturing processes. While technologies have been developed that can greatly improve workflow automation in healthcare, uptake has been relatively slow. In fact, when it comes to workflow automation in healthcare, the industry lags virtually all other industry sectors.
One of the main problems with workflow automation in healthcare is the use of disparate systems, which are not fully capable of interacting with each other. There have been major improvements to interoperability in recent years but there is still a long way to go before data flows freely from one system to another.
Despite the transition from charts and paper files to electronic health records, hospitals are still full of paper. It may not be possible to totally eliminate paper in hospitals, but many processes can be digitalized and largely automated to improve efficiency without disrupting clinical workflows.
Workflow automation in healthcare has been shown to reduce errors, improve patient safety, ensure better resource utilization, and reduce stress for clinicians by decreasing manual effort.
Benefits of Workflow Automation in Healthcare
There are several areas where workflow automation in healthcare has been shown to have significant benefits.
Reduces Staff Burnout
Burnout is a common problem in healthcare. Staff are often overworked, there are not enough hours in the day, and the job can be extremely challenging and stressful. Automation helps to free up clinicians’ time, allowing them to spend more time conducting tasks that require a human hand. Automating manual processes and administration tasks such as entering information into the EHR, completing the claims status check process, or automating billing, can significantly reduce workload and stress.
When technology is implemented in healthcare it often happens in silos. Disparate systems do not talk to each other and information does not flow freely. Major advances have been made in recent years and interoperability is improving, but there is still some way to go. APIs and AI solutions are helping to automate pulling data from different systems eliminating the need for manual data entry.
Automation greatly reduces waste in all areas of the healthcare system. When processes are completed manually, errors can easily be made, which take time to resolve. Through automation the potential for error is greatly reduced, repetition of tasks is eliminated, and operational efficiency is improved, resulting in better resource utilization and major cost savings.
Improves Patient Safety
One of the main areas where workflow automation in healthcare has been invaluable is reducing the potential for errors. Any time data must be entered, such as into an EHR, errors can occur that can have major consequences for patients. A Joint Commission study revealed 60% of medical errors are the direct result of communication failures. Automating data entry processes and the use of modern communication solutions have helped to greatly reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.
Increases Patient Throughput
There are often several bottlenecks in hospitals that slow patient flow, with admission and discharge two common areas where delays are experienced. During admission, everything must be signed off by an administrator or a physician. Software solutions can streamline this process and speed up admissions and discharges through the automation of approval, registration, billing, and insurance processes.
Improves Resource Planning
Many hospitals have started using cloud-based applications to generate staff schedules, which have been combined with workflow management solutions to reduce the administrative burden on staff, which was significant with paper-based staff scheduling. As with admissions and discharges, getting approvals for schedules is accelerated through automation. Healthcare workflow automation software has also helped with the planning of staffing through analyses of historical data to identify trends when there is typically an increased influx of patients.
Improves Communication Efficiency
It may be 2020, but healthcare communication solutions have not changed a great deal since the 1970s. Pagers are still used in 1 in 4 hospitals and 90% of hospitals still use faxes. Landlines are also relied on even though virtually all clinicians carry a mobile phone. Adopting a clinical communication and collaboration solution that supports text messaging, voice and video calls greatly improves efficiency and eliminates hours of wasted time playing phone tag and chasing up pages. The platforms also integrate with EHRs. Patient data can be sent from the apps to EHRs and EHR alerts can be pushed to the smartphone app, notifying physicians the second test result are in.
Automation Improves Efficiency and Improves Profitability
The use of software and technology for workflow automation in healthcare naturally comes at a cost, but it is a smart investment that will pay dividends. In the age of information technology, relying on manual processes and paperwork doesn’t make sense when there are technical solutions that can remove the hassle from healthcare processes, eliminate the huge repetition of tasks, and effectively streamline workflows while eliminating the potential for error.