Blog Post

Automation Blog Series Part 1: Why providers are hesitant to pursue automation—and what they might be missing as a result

By Abigail Burns

September 23, 2021

    The administrative burden of health care has increased exponentially in recent years, driving up the cost of doing business and driving down efficiency and provider and patient experience. IT leaders are increasingly being asked to consider investing in automation solutions to support a range of administrative—and clinical—needs.

    Maximizing the value of investments in automation

    But, unlike other industries, the use of automation is still relatively new in health care. While many leaders are considering investing in automation solutions, they don't have a deep well of experienced peers to consult or examples to look to for guidance.

    In this blog series, we offer insight into how leaders should think about, and communicate, the opportunities automation presents to execute against providers' operational and strategic goals.

    Before we get there, it's important to take a deeper look to understand provider reticence around automation.

    Persistent challenges prevent providers from investing in, scaling automation

    Provider leaders point to six main deterrents to investing in automation – and they likely sound familiar:

    • Staff sensitivity. Some clinicians perceive automation as a threat to their autonomy, especially around clinical decision-making. Non-clinical staff may perceive automation as a threat to their employment – particularly in services ripe for automation, many fear being "replaced by robots." Across designations, staff are justifiably wary about anything patient-facing since it affects the patient's relationship to—and trust in—the providers and systems themselves.
    • Technical complexity. Working with the infamously complex and unwieldy EMR that makes up the backbone of provider IT infrastructures requires hard-to-come-by expertise. Health care is often not a top destination for data scientists with the necessary skillset. Finding and/or cultivating this talent often requires time and resources provider organizations may allocate elsewhere.
    • Past 'failures.' Provider organizations—IT leaders in particular—have endured false hope before when it comes to tech-based "solutions" that fail to fix—and may even exacerbate—the productivity problems they were purchased to solve. Specifically, some EMR tools aimed at automating work queues have inadvertently created workflow inefficiencies by failing to take a holistic account of how workflows intersect; they streamline one workflow to the detriment of another—or others. This makes leaders wary to stick their necks out and advocate for investment in new technologies. Instead, many prefer to use tested tools that, in the words of one provider, "aren't good, but may be good enough."
    • Unwieldy vendor lists. Providers often look to streamline their vendor portfolios as a way to cut costs from the system. Especially given the above, they may be hesitant to work with new vendors—particularly for niche or point automation solutions.
    • Unclear financial return. Automation can help providers execute against strategic goals, including the quadruple aim. But when investing in IT solutions—which is how providers view automation solutions—provider leaders want to see demonstrable cost savings, ideally in the short term. For some, automation – especially intelligent automation—may present too unclear of a return on investment. For others, the umbrella of automation opportunities makes it difficult to discern what processes would best benefit their organization. More on this in a later post.

    Challenges are real but not intractable

    These challenges are not new. In fact, they overlap heavily with the key IT leader concerns around EMR implementation circa 2010. No one would argue that EMR implementation has been a smooth experience, but I doubt that many would advocate returning to a primarily paper-based system.

    Similarly, automation has positive catalytic effects. It augments and enhances clinical decision-making (as evidenced in this JAMA study that found that breast cancer screening performed by a combination of a radiologist and AI algorithm was more accurate than screening performed by either one alone) and enables organizations to (re)deploy staff to work at top of license (as argued here).

    Used well, automation improves patient experience and engagement, it doesn't undermine it. And we see robust potential for holistic benefits to provider organizations – particularly (though not exclusively) for organizations applying a definition of "ROI" that goes beyond cost savings.

    Automation is not a magic bullet to solve the structural problems underlying care delivery. But it does hold greater potential than the industry is currently realizing.

    Maximizing the value of investments in automation

    Leveraging intelligent automation to deliver on strategic goals

    automationIn 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.

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