This is the second installment in a four-part series. Read the first installment here.
Many health care leaders, even those that have bought into the idea of automation, struggle to make the case to invest in automation solutions. Provider leaders want to see demonstrable cost savings, ideally in the short term, whenever they are investing in new solutions. For some, the return on investments in automation—especially intelligent automation—is simply unclear.
Here are the three top challenges that leaders cited as reasons for the slow investment in automation solutions.
Challenge #1: The focus on upfront costs blinds leaders to potential ROI
Provider leaders often have a high bar to justify the upfront costs of any new investments—which is not unreasonable given the tight margins many of their organizations face. This pressure is heightened when it comes to automation solutions, as many are relatively new and their use is not widespread throughout the industry. Without a robust body of evidence of financial ROI, providers may be unwilling to incur the costs.
However, the focus on cost alone blinds leaders to the transformational potential of automation, prioritizing today's cost over tomorrow's savings. That makes it much easier to ignore the urgency that health care faces to improve efficiency and effectiveness across operational, clinical, and workforce domains.
Challenge #2: Providers define "ROI" too narrowly
Another barrier we heard from health care leaders was that organizations define "ROI" purely in terms of financial returns. It's true that financial returns are important, but health care leaders can define "ROI" more holistically to capture a comprehensive picture of potential benefits. Automation solutions have shown potential to improve patient and physicians experience, improve care outcomes, and increase workflow efficiencies.
Sample metrics to holistically evaluate impact of intelligent automation
- Patient/staff satisfaction
- Patient/staff engagement
- Patient leakage
- Adherence to care protocols
- Drug prescription fill rate
- Patient form fill rate
- Copay collection rate
- Staff turnover
- New patient enrollment
- Clinician panel capacity (e.g., care coordinators)
- Clinician hours spent on documentation
- Staff time spent on basic data entry
- Duplicative patient outreach
- Erroneous patient outreach
- Care gap closure
- Avoidable acute care use
- Medication errors
With so many potential targets, it can be hard for organizations to prioritize investments—and it can be easy to suffer "death by pilot," where adoption and investment are scattershot across an organization and relatively narrow in scale. That makes it important to track and measure outcomes. Measurable outcomes are the only way to know if automation solutions are producing the kind of early wins that can validate taking pilot projects to scale and lead to benefits that will ultimately produce financial wins.
Challenge #3: Leaders are busy with the demands of today, making it hard to plan for the future
Given their focus on ROI, leaders are less likely to consider the opportunity costs of not investing in automation solutions. Over the past year, leaders have been asked to deal with a constant stream of demands related to Covid-19, on top of the normal, day-to-day challenges of running a health system. We heard from leaders that investments in automation aren't a top priority in part because of the time it would take to scale solutions and realize the benefits.
But by only considering the immediate and short-term projects, leaders risk facing the consequences of not making investments. Automation solutions can help organizations:
- Attract and retain physicians. Once these solutions become widespread, physicians will expect to have these tools at their disposal.
- Take on more patients. Automation solutions lead to more efficient processes, which help organizations keep up with the increasing demand for health care services.
- Stay competitive. As physicians and patients expect better digital solutions, they will turn to organizations that have invested and grown their automation solutions.
Advice from leaders who have successfully built the case for investment in automation solutions
Leaders who have navigated these challenges and invested in automation point to a few keys for success.
- Think beyond costs and consider returns holistically—both financial and non-financial
- Set definite goals and track outcomes to measure the success of the solution
- Consider the opportunity costs of not investing in these solutions, and what that will mean for the future growth of your organization