Automation — Healthcare’s Next Great Workforce

Kevin Dunnahoo, Associate Director Healthcare IT, Digital and Security Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all industries, but it has put a real squeeze on the healthcare industry. This pandemic is pressuring healthcare providers from all sides, causing an increase in patients that require intensive care and ventilators, but also causing a constraint on revenues as most other departments halt and defer services to protect those patients and caregivers from becoming infected. Many organizations are strongly considering or have already initiated furloughs given the reduced cash flow, and the potential long-term human resources repercussions that will be felt months ahead, even when the curve of COVID-19 cases flattens. Pressure can be a good thing, turning pieces of coal into diamonds — but only if healthcare organizations can stand the test of time.

One thing that is becoming increasingly apparent from this pandemic is the need for automation. Having digital workers — those that are not impacted by working from home, self-quarantine or other business process disruptions — unceasingly performing processes and monitoring controls, can be invaluable in optimizing the efficiency of human workers.

Many healthcare organizations are not yet seeing a surge in cases or have not been as significantly impacted as those in New York City and other highly populated areas. However, most of these organizations are still seeing the workforce implications. One alternative approach is to invest the time now to identify those processes that can benefit from automation through the use of virtual robots. The automation of transactional process execution can provide immediate benefit while also preparing organizations to respond once the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, and all those procedures that were deferred now require attention. There will be an inevitable push to attend to those procedures as quickly as possible and process claims and collect revenue at an equal pace. Automation can help make these necessary steps more efficient.

Healthcare providers have implemented several changes during the COVID-19 pandemic that many patients will want to see maintained in the future. These changes may be a part of new workflows that need to be captured into overall business process flows. Changes such as telehealth visits, drive-through testing, remote care and touchpoints through patient portals may be shaping up to be the new normal. Integrating these new patient care delivery models into the traditional steps of patient registration, eligibility checks, cost estimations, claims billing, and a litany of additional revenue cycle steps will be crucial. These are just a few of the key areas that serve as a perfect use case and are ripe for automation.

Other key areas to consider include the expectation that governmental and payer audits will be forthcoming once all of the current pandemic pressures subside. Healthcare organizations must determine if they have functioning controls that are able to assess compliance with regulations and contractual obligations.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has relaxed requirements that clinicians work at the top of their license, some questions to ask are: Does the organization have plans for how to revert these changes once the leniency is rescinded? Is the organization able to do regular checks on the licensing of its clinicians and verify they have the right coverage to see patients from where they are calling? Are controls in place to look for potentially fraudulent activity, purchase orders for materials that don’t arrive or are outside the normal cost consideration, or other deviations from normal workflows and financial checks and balances?

Automation will be a necessity in years to come; capitalize now on some potentially extra bandwidth to push these programs forward. Having a digital workforce that can withstand pandemic and economic pressures will pay dividends, allowing human resources to focus on those more complex value-added activities, increasing their ability to focus, learn and enjoy an increase in job satisfaction.

The COVID-19 pandemic will be an inflection point for many aspects of the healthcare provider industry. One that will surely be seen is the launch of automation into almost every process in some form or fashion. Only time will tell whether this pandemic will be the pressure point that creates the diamond standard for healthcare delivery organizations to be as efficient and resilient as possible and prepared to take on the next wave of healthcare challenges.

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