Improving operational efficiencies is a high-priority goal for businesses in every industry. Often, the more complex the field, the more opportunity for improvement—and the healthcare industry is well known for its complexity.
With so many processes, challenges, and stakeholders, the ability to transform healthcare operations into more streamlined practices is a game changer. So what areas of healthcare need the most help and are the best candidates for operational upgrades?
What Are Operational Efficiencies?
In a business context, operational efficiencies describe the optimal use of time, people, equipment, budgets, technology, and inventory that serve the organization. The most efficient companies operate lean, are agile, and are maximally profitable.
To reach efficiency goals, you’ll need to target waste. That can mean waste of time, money, resources, or people. Unfortunately, healthcare has a history of excessive waste, which makes operational efficiencies even more necessary.
The pursuit of operational efficiency requires a long-term, never-ending road map in an industry like healthcare. The field has so many factors impacting operations, which makes achieving high levels of efficiency difficult—but not impossible. When healthcare organizations strategically apply tactics to increase efficiency, they can reap many benefits: lower costs, better care delivery, decreased burnout, faster recruitment, and smoother operations, to name a few.
Areas of Healthcare Most Suitable for Operational Efficiency Strategies
When considering what areas of healthcare to prioritize for operational efficiency, start by identifying components with the most waste or tasks and workflows best suited for automation.
Labor and Recruitment
After two long years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in healthcare said goodbye to the industry, creating labor challenges. The industry is recovering, but experts say recovery is slow.
In addition to pandemic-related burnout causing people to leave, the demand for more healthcare employees continues to increase because of an aging population, as noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects that healthcare employment will grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average employment growth in any other industry. In addition, the need for care is also rising as the country moves out of the pandemic phase and many people begin catching up on routine checkups, cancer screenings, and elective surgeries they had put off.
Without fully staffed facilities, many are and will continue to operate with fewer resources than they need. A report suggests that by 2026, the shortage will equate to 3.2 million jobs.
The good news is that improving operational efficiencies can help with labor and recruitment.
Applying Automation to Labor and Recruitment Processes
To streamline processes related to labor and recruitment, organizations can apply automation capabilities. First, they can use robotic process automation (RPA) and its “digital robots” to orchestrate repetitive tasks. Second, they can do even more with intelligent automation, which combines RPA and AI.
Here are some areas this technology can support:
- Medical record automation
- Submission of claims
- Data aggregation from electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems
- Interactive chatbot communication with patients inside patient portals
Further, automation reduces the burden of administrative tasks on clinicians. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a study on how long physicians spend using EHRs. The results revealed shocking information: Physicians spend more time with the EHR than the patient.
The study found that doctors spend an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds using an EHR. Most visits with patients are 30 minutes in length, leaving less than 14 minutes for personal interaction. This imbalance causes frustration, which can lead to burnout.
Another report revealed that 60 percent of physicians have feelings of burnout, and these administrative hurdles are a big reason. Automation can help here as well, taking repetitive tasks off of physicians’ plates.
With new processes that remove the need for human input, healthcare organizations can leverage their human resources much better. Doing so can create more job satisfaction and prevent employee churn. Further, with technology taking over a lot of data-related activities, you can save on labor costs.
Hospitals are often large, complex systems, and as a result, operational efficiency often seems out of reach. By using RPA and intelligent automation, you can apply efficiency best practices and alleviate some common challenges, including:
- Restocking and ordering medications and supplies
- Understanding capacity and forecasting it
All these processes require manual work—unless they are automated. Data also exists around all of these. When healthcare organizations collect, standardize, and analyze that data, they can use the information to help operational elements run much smoother, saving money along the way.
Regulatory Compliance and Auditing
Healthcare must function under numerous regulations, and you must demonstrate compliance with these regulations to avoid fines or other repercussions. With automation technology, you can track, trace, and document every regulations-related process end to end. For auditing, use your “digital robots” to identify necessary information for review. It’s just one more safety net to help you stay compliant.
Learn More About Automation’s Role in Operational Efficiency
Healthcare has a unique opportunity to use automation to improve operational efficiency. When implemented well, automation can support several areas of healthcare organizations that are traditionally rife with inefficiencies. Get more insights on this topic by reading our eBook, Leveraging Intelligent Automation to Increase Operational Efficiency.