Our Take

Maximizing the Value of Investments in Automation

15 Minute Read

Intelligent automation combines two powerful tools – artificial intelligence (AI) and simple process automation – to create a digital “workforce” capable of removing the friction from health care delivery. AI technologies are increasingly capable of replicating human brain functions while performing them much faster – and more accurately – than humans themselves. But in today’s lexicon, “automation” is nearly synonymous with robotic process automation (RPA). And by and large, the ambition for automation in health care starts and ends with point solution efficiency.

This thinking limits the impact automation can have. Other industries have successfully embraced intelligent automation beyond streamlining business functions to help them achieve their strategic goals. Here’s our take on four shifts health care leaders need to make in order to do the same.

 

What is intelligent automation

AI-enabled process automation.

Intelligent automation combines adaptive elements of AI like predictive classifiers, natural language processing, and computer vision with execution-focused capabilities of RPA to perform repetitive, logic-based tasks.

It uses AI capabilities to take in and act on structured and unstructured data in a human-like manner and learns from historic data to improve accuracy and efficiency.

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This report is sponsored by Notable. Advisory Board experts wrote the report, conducting the underlying research independently and objectively. Notable had the opportunity to review the report.

 

The conventional wisdom

When providers think about automation, they think narrowly. They think about revenue cycle—as a single siloed function to be streamlined and accelerated. They think about other fundamental business functions like supply chain—because of the obvious ROI. They may think more broadly about robotic process automation (RPA)—but often only in terms of labor arbitrage.

This thinking isn’t necessarily wrong. Automation can and should make back office functions more efficient, and RPA can produce real financial rewards for
low-margin provider businesses. And most providers have plenty of running room for improvement.

Health care leaders’ conservative approach to using automation is also easy to understand. Unfulfilled promises of previous technologies—including but not limited to the EHR—make providers hesitant to wade into advanced automation solutions. When they do, it’s usually in the form of small pilots that are easily measurable but have limited impact (and may even exacerbate pain points in
adjacent workflows). In other words, some health care leaders are choosing to hold off on investing in automation, and some are investing in point solutions. Neither approach solves the problem of enterprise-wide efficiency or, consequently, experience in health care.

 

Our take

By focusing automation efforts solely on improving targeted efficiencies and reducing cost, provider organizations are inadvertently blinding themselves to the transformational potential intelligent automation holds to help them execute against their core organizational goals. AI-enabled automation, or intelligent automation, has the potential to alleviate administrative burden and achieve financial wins while also optimizing the care delivery experience.

Other industries have already turned to intelligent automation to ensure that their consumers are able to effectively access and navigate their services. Think about managing your investment portfolio, checking in for a flight, or filing your taxes. Those experiences are setting, meeting, and even elevating consumer expectations around how to interact with those organizations. And their consumers are your patients.

Health care is often behind the curve when it comes to adopting technology— and that's not surprising given that providers' margins are so thin, and their existing tech infrastructure is often cumbersome. But this is a gap that must close. Without a clear focus on the end user, the endemic problems of clinician burnout and turnover will persist unaffected at best and accelerated at worst. Patients will disengage, seek care elsewhere, or avoid care altogether if they can’t interact meaningfully and conveniently with their providers.

Automation must be more than a series of disconnected IT point solutions. As AI technologies improve, they have made automation nimbler and more productive. Intelligent automation can now learn from its “experiences” to more effectively enhance provider operations. It is more robust and adaptive than legacy process automation solutions.

This presents a new opportunity in health care. Making the most of it requires a new point of view: providers need to look upon automation as a lever to improve the health care experience at all stages of the journey for both patients and staff.

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Four approaches to maximize the value of investments in automation 

Changing mindsets is easier said than done, but it’s a non-negotiable first step toward innovative transformation—and that’s what the move toward intelligent automation is. Providers don't need a new strategy around automation. They need to think differently about how automation can help them achieve their existing strategic goals.

We’ve identified four specific ways health care leaders need to push their thinking in order to maximize the value of their investments in automation – and the first steps they should take to turn thought into action.

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    Set improving user experience as your primary ambition for automation

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    Don’t limit evaluation to financial metrics

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    Think of the digital workforce as “additive” rather than “substitutive”

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    Fill the accountability void around automation

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Parting Thoughts

Automation can improve backend efficiency to achieve cost savings, but it can do so much more than that when deployed to improve patient and provider experience. Health care leaders have been thinking too narrowly about the role automation can play in helping them meet their strategic goals. As automation technologies improve and become more prevalent, providers need to broaden their thinking about how to leverage intelligent automation.

Health care leaders are afraid to be the “tip of the spear” when it comes to deploying intelligent automation in patient and staff-facing ways. But that thinking may soon be outdated: the number of providers using automation more than tripled in the past year alone. Investment in automation on some level is inevitable; the question is no longer whether to invest in automation, it’s how to guarantee your investment has the broadest possible impact.

Focusing on improving the health care experience is a good place to start. Consumers expect a more seamless experience: paper-based processes just won’t cut it anymore. And every point of friction in the experience is an opportunity for a patient to fall through the cracks. When the goal is to simplify the experience for the end user, health care leaders are forced to consider processes holistically. In doing so, they can realize benefits beyond just the cost savings for which they usually aim.

The past year has seen providers innovate in shoots and starts, out of necessity. Several used intelligent automation to stand up emergency Covid-19 outreach centers to field patient calls and orchestrate Covid-19 testing and vaccination. Leaders need to take advantage of this spirit of innovation and build on it. Intelligent automation shouldn’t just be employed when crisis strikes – it should be woven into the fabric of doing business in health care.

About the sponsor

Notable is the leading intelligent automation company for healthcare. Three of the top 15 US health systems, including Intermountain Healthcare and CommonSpirit Health, use Notable to identify and engage more patients in need of care by automating hundreds of repetitive workflows like patient intake, care outreach, registration, documentation, and billing. With Notable, staff and clinicians report saving 700+ hours of administrative work per provider per year; increased patient visit volume; a provider NPS score of 74; and patient satisfaction ratings of 98%.

Learn more about Notable

This report is sponsored by Notable Health, an Advisory Board member organization. Representatives of Notable Health helped select the topics and issues addressed. Advisory Board experts wrote the report, maintained final editorial approval, and conducted the underlying research independently and objectively. Advisory Board does not endorse any company, organization, product or brand mentioned herein.

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