Automation can help services keep pace with pressing needs of Singapore’s healthcare

The healthcare industry experienced a monumental shift in conversations surrounding mental health, which led to healthcare authorities in Singapore placing heavier emphasis on mental health advocacy in providing support for junior healthcare staff.

As more primary and secondary healthcare workers experience burnout in the fight against the pandemic, the pressure on Singapore’s healthcare system continues. Before 2020, the ratio of doctors and nurses per 1,000 patients stood at 2.6 and 7.4 respectively. However, just a few months ago, the system faced the risk of being “overwhelmed” in terms of resources and healthcare staff. The peak of the pandemic in Singapore over the last few months, as well as the challenges of an ageing population and rising costs of living are testaments to why our healthcare system need to deliver healthcare services in a smarter and more efficient manner – one that will alleviate current issues, such as long working hours and the large number of A&E patients.

As the government digitalises healthcare systems in the country, technology can be used improve employees and patients’ experiences. In April last year, the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technologies (CHART) – spearheaded by Changi General Hospital, Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore Economic Development Board – stated automation as one of their key focus areas to boost employee productivity, as well as improve health and clinical outcomes by extending human capabilities and delivering higher precision in treatment.

As implied in the strategic plan, digital solutions underlying CHART’s initiatives will be powered, in part with automation to further develop and improve digital services are already in play across healthcare systems in the country.

Helping healthcare services keep up intelligently

Intelligent automation (IA) has been utilised by hospitals to resolve their common problems for a long time. It enables hospitals and clinics to bring in digital workers – AI-fuelled software designed to model human roles – to execute rules-based tasks such as appointment bookings and referrals, which go a long way toward improving operational excellence and the patient experience in healthcare institutions.

At the height of the pandemic in April 2020, the health authorities had to set up testing efforts, particularly at foreign worker dormitories, where more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests were administered each day. With the coronavirus spreading fast, hospitals were under great pressure to register, test, and share the results quickly across the network. They needed to speed up this process.

To improve the efficiency of this laborious process, National University Health System (NUHS) leveraged SS&C Blue Prism’s IA in the form of digital workers. The results were immediate as test registration time was reduced from two minutes to 30 seconds per test, saving NUHS 18 hours each day. Lab results also arrived more quickly, enabling NUHS to process more than 27,000 patients daily. In addition, as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19 and relieve the load on the stretched healthcare workforce, NUHS leveraged on IA to build a digital patient portal where patients can take charge of their own health through a self-service smart portal and remote consultation. NUHS’s implementation of IA is a great example of how the technology can automate processes and improve overall operations.

This wasn’t the first time that NUHS improved operational efficiency with IA with SS&C Blue Prism. In 2018, NUHS started to automate their back-office functions, including claims processing and billing. With automation, the organisation was able to process bill adjustment requests with an immediate turnaround – a process that once took three to four days. The use of automation helped NUHS process 75 percent of its 40,000 annual bill adjustment requests, which improved the organisation’s cashflow, contributing to an estimated US$350,000 savings across three years. Patients seeking reimbursement from their insurers and employers also enjoyed better experience.

Empowering healthcare professionals to do more with more

The global pandemic has opened avenues and accelerated new ways of working and operating in the healthcare sector. In a Blue Prism survey of more than 400 senior level healthcare professionals across the globe, 93 percent said that automation of processes accelerated because of COVID-19, with 58 percent of respondents replacing paper documents with electronic equivalents, and 57 percent taking the opportunity to build new, automated processes that improved the way they interact with patients and other departments. Almost half (45 percent) said they have replaced in-person consultations with video conferencing, a practice that is likely to continue in the years ahead.

In particular, COVID-19 saw a spike in telemedicine and teleconsulting services due to convenience, and the demand for these services will continue to surge over the next few years for the same reason. According to RedSeer Consulting, the online health sector in Southeast Asia is expected to expand 10 times by 2025, and both Indonesia and Singapore alone will account for 50 to 60 percent of the growth.

 Clearly, the future is bright for the adoption of IA and digital solutions, with the healthcare sector a fertile ground for further deployments to drive greater sustainable healthcare for all. More than ever, healthcare organisations are challenged to do more for patients with the same resources or less. By leveraging IA to power laborious processes while improving existing solutions like telehealth, it is possible for Singapore’s healthcare systems to not only achieve financial sustainability but directly address issues around service availability, so that doctors and nurses can finally be freed up to focus and care for patients with urgent medical needs.

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