Web content editor Ian Bolland spoke to Dr Tiina Leivo from Digital Workforce about robotic process automation (RPA), its role within healthcare, and how we need to find new ways of being efficient.
Reducing costs but not taking time away between a doctor and patient is one of the key aspects to RPA according to Leivo, as she examines what she describes as an unsustainable trend in healthcare.
“If we want to maintain the high-quality healthcare that we have at the moment in the western countries, in the OECD countries, the only way we can maintain the high-quality healthcare is digitalisation.
“At the moment, if you look through the OECD data, it shows that the health spending growth per capita far exceeds the GDP growth. It means that every year, a bigger share of GDP goes to healthcare, and of course this is an unsustainable trend. We can’t afford it.
“With RPA, it will give more time for the nurses, doctors and clinical secretaries to help patients and let the robotics do the dull, repetitive tasks.”
RPA is a digital worker, which has received the CE mark for medical devices. It automates computer-based knowledge work processes, carrying out the same computer tasks that a human would, but undertaken by a software robot instead.
It works across several industries as well as healthcare, including finance and insurance, with the healthcare sector accounting for 30 of its 220 specialists. Leivo has described RPA as the ‘biggest trend there is’, believing it can have a role in relieving the burden on physicians, and reducing the risk or cases of burnout.
“It’s so frustrating that you are a specialist in your field, and you use your time doing copy-based routine tasks. There are two aspects, first you get more time with patients and then there is the other aspect that software robots do the tasks no-one wants to do.”
The question of ethics inevitably occurs when automation comes into the health sector, but Leivo suggested it could be safer for robots to handle certain tasks.
She added: “It’s very important that we are even better than we’re required to be, so that is why we have a medical device certification CE mark for our service. That is needed, for example, when you replace doctor who is handling laboratory results.
“In a way it’s much safer than a human going into the system because it has no interest in the data.”
The handling of lab results is one example where Leivo feels that an automated process ensures the efficiencies she feels are required in a healthcare system.
“A nurse, or a doctor can go through your results and see that it’s normal, then writes in your EMR notes that it’s normal, and then has to inform you somehow that it’s normal.
“What does the automation do? It’s classifies the lab results, it makes the EMR notes – so it writes, for example, that this test is normal and then it sends an SMS to say; ‘hey, everything ok.’
“If it’s normal they continue with their next test and the next appointment and this can be automated. We can free up the nurse or the doctor from going through those normal tests. If it’s abnormal then the doctor takes care of it.”