Automation In Healthcare: What Does It Look Like?

‍Learn how automation can improve the experience of your patients and employees.

November 4, 2021

To some, “automation” is a scary word. It may spark fear of unemployment, thoughts of a dystopian future, or perhaps memories of a grandfather who lost his factory job decades ago. These feelings often drive a strong desire to keep even the mention of automation far, far away from the workplace.

But is this a smart response? Do we even understand what it is we are demonizing? Do we know what automation actually is? 

And if we do, have we taken the time to assess how automation might improve our customers’ experience, our businesses' profitability, or our employees' efficiency?

It's time to pause and take a few minutes to learn what automation really is and how healthcare providers and their teams can best utilize it.

What is automation?

"Automation is the creation and application of technologies to produce and deliver goods and services with minimal human intervention." - Techopedia

Contrary to popular belief, automation doesn't always mean giant machinery and robots. Instead, it often exists in the form of simple, technologically-enhanced processes that make life easier for humans.

Great examples are found all around us. When we walk into the grocery store, a motion sensor automates the opening of the door. Without the motion sensor, a person could open the door manually, but through automation, life is made better for those who may struggle to open a door manually.

When we hop in a vehicle with an automatic transmission, automation shifts for us (and, in all likelihood, more smoothly than many of us ever could!). While many of us could manually shift gears if we needed to, automating the shifting allows the vehicle to operate more efficiently while also providing a smoother, more leisurely ride for the vehicle's driver and passengers.

Automation is also baked into the business processes of many businesses that we interact with on a daily basis. Again, this often occurs in simple ways–online ordering, customer support chatbots, and more–not through complex schemes to fire your Aunt Sally and replace her with a robot. Instead, businesses typically utilize automation for two simple reasons:

1. To provide a superior customer experience.

2. To provide a superior employee experience.

Through automation, businesses allow customers to skip slow, frustrating, and time-consuming steps in the purchasing process. By replacing tedious, menial, and highly manual processes with simple, automated systems, employers provide their employees with a more enjoyable, efficient work environment.

And healthcare providers can apply these same principles to their clinics! Providers can offer patients a better experience while also improving the efficiency of their team.

But knowing where to get started is difficult. Do you need to head down to the robot store to purchase a state-of-the-art robot surgeon? Or replace your receptionist with a giant tablet?

The simple answer is no. Rather, an easy starting point is identifying the most painful or irritating actions that your customers or staff members take each day and considering how you might apply technology to reduce the human intervention necessary to complete such tasks.

But many healthcare practices of varying specialties experience the same problems and thus hold similar opportunities for automation. Thus, we present four common areas where automation may be able to help your clinic:

Appointment Scheduling

For some patients, simply scheduling a doctor's appointment is the biggest barrier to care. Finding time during business hours to step away from their busy schedule and make a phone call to schedule an appointment can feel impossible. And this seemingly small hassle leads many patients, who WANT and NEED health care, to delay, and often altogether avoid, going to see a healthcare provider–a fact that is bad for patients' health and providers' balance sheets.

This reality presents a clear example of where the humanity in an encounter drives customer frustration. People are the main obstacle standing in the way of patients' ability to schedule appointments–because patients must call when a person is available to answer the phone, which typically means during business hours.

But how can automation help?

It's simple: remove the need for a phone call. Do patients really need to talk to a human being to schedule an appointment? Scheduling an appointment requires two actions: (1) a presentation of the provider’s availability and (2) a patient’s selection of one of those times. Why must a person present those options–especially when a computer could do this more effectively?

Clearly, the employee in this situation only makes life harder for the patient, presenting an opportunity to apply automation. And many appointment scheduling tools exist to do just this, so your only job is to find the right tool for your practice! 

Patient Intake

After checking in for an appointment, every patient knows that their next order of business will be completing the intake paperwork. While this is a tedious and irritating task for patients, the staff members responsible for dealing with the information next have it even worse. Front office staff are transformed into data entry specialists, converting information written on paper into searchable, useful information inside a database.

Surely, this proves to be a mind-numbing part of their job for many staff members–taking the analog and converting it to digital–presenting an obvious opportunity for automation.

What is currently a two-step process–patient fills out paper intake forms, and then office staff converts the paper forms to digital forms–should only be a one-step process. 

Instead of starting with paper forms, practices can utilize digital patient intake tools to enable patients to complete intake forms digitally, removing the need for office staff to spend valuable time punching numbers and letters into a computer. 

Patient Engagement

In many areas of healthcare, patients need to see doctors on a semi-regular basis. Whether it be for biannual dental cleanings or an annual checkup, those appointments need to be scheduled. If appointments are not scheduled after a patient’s previous appointment, then clinic staff are left attempting to reach patients on the phone to schedule appointments. 

Beyond initiating scheduling conversations, patients who already have an appointment often need to be reminded of their appointments, as an appointment scheduled six months ago can easily be forgotten. Again, this leaves team members on the phone, in this instance acting as a patient reminder service!

But, again, that solution seems tedious and overly manual, doesn't it? Should you really ask one of your employees to spend hours and hours calling patients to schedule an appointment? Or to remind them of their upcoming appointment? Isn’t there a better, less people-intensive way?

Patient engagement tools present an easy solution. By plugging directly into your patient management systems, software solutions can automatically send texts or emails and even make phone calls to patients reminding them to schedule or attend an appointment. Then, your employees are left free to focus on more effective phone calls for patients who may not respond to automated communication.

Patient Billing

Finally, one of the most frustrating facets of healthcare is paying for it. Patients visit a provider, receive services, and then don't see a bill for weeks or months. Once the bill does arrive, it often does so in paper form, requesting that its recipient mail a check or credit card information back to the provider. It's a completely preposterous notion in a world where one can order a pizza in 30 seconds from their phone... But it's the reality many patients deal with on a regular basis.

That's not to mention the use of payment plans. Many providers are willing to let patients make payments on a bill over several months, yet these payment plans are typically only offered if patients specifically request them. Without the proper systems in place, setting up a payment plan is a highly manual process for health care providers. Office staff typically have to manually charge the card on file and keep track of terms on an ad hoc basis, as there is no standardization or system within which to run these plans.

Billing is a great candidate for improving both the patient experience and the employee experience. Patients are asked to do far too much to pay a simple bill and are not empowered to utilize flexible payment plans, which may provide an alternative to nonpayment. Meanwhile, employees are left dealing with paper checks and card information written on paper (a PCI DSS violation in the making), two items that will need to be immediately digitized... While also fielding phone calls from patients seeking to use payment plans! Then, when the payment plan requests are accepted, employees must remember the details of every payment plan set up individually. It’s a disastrously manual system that doesn’t reflect the technological realities of the 21st century. 

Enter Peachy. 

Peachy is a software-as-a-service offering that enables providers to easily send bills via text and email. Once bills are received, Peachy allows patients to pay (from their phones) via credit card, debit card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. 

Peachy automates the payment process by removing the need for (1) patients to write down and mail card info or checks, and (2) employees to transfer that info to their payment processor and then properly dispose of it. It's a better experience for everyone involved.

But Peachy doesn't only address the frustrations behind paying bills; it also empowers providers to offer simple, automated payment plans. No more tracking payment plan terms on sticky notes or requesting them via phone call. Instead, providers can elect to offer them via Peachy, patients can take advantage of them in a self-serve manner, and then Peachy helps providers manage them automatically. It's simple, easy, and automated.

What now?

Your only next step is to get started. Automation is a powerful tool for improving the lives of those that interact with your practice, whether they be patients or employees. The only question is how to implement it properly. Fortunately, countless solutions exist in the market, and there is surely a solution that can help your practice. Simply begin by identifying areas of frustration or irritation in your business, and then figure out how to remove the manual, tedious steps within it. From there, it's just a matter of finding the right tool for the job.

And if you want some help knowing how you can automate your practice's patient billing processes, Peachy is here to help. Reach out to us here, and we'll find a time to chat!


Appendix
Published on: 
November 4, 2021

Note: This is not to be taken as tax, legal, benefits, health or financial advice. Since rules and regulations change over time and can vary by location, consult a lawyer or financial expert for specific guidance.

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