Robotic Process Automation and Health Informatics and Information Management

This blog explores health informatics—a collaborative activity connecting people, process, and technologies to produce trusted data for better decision-making.


By Clarice Smith, RHIA, CHP

 

Healthcare is a very hands-on and patient-centric industry, which makes the introduction of robots to the healthcare environment seem counterintuitive. Robots are often perceived as “high tech,” and patients may consider them to be impersonal. Nevertheless, robots are beginning to appear in various roles in hospitals—with the possibility of further implementation in the near future.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is defined by Investopedia as: “software that can be easily programmed to do basic tasks across applications just as human workers do. The software can be taught a workflow with multiple steps and applications, such as taking received forms, sending a receipt message, checking the form for completeness, filing the form in a folder and updating a spreadsheet with the name of the form, the date filed, and so on. RPA software is designed to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees.” RPA is being developed in many industries, including healthcare.

While robots are not yet mainstream in healthcare, strides are being made in implementing the technology. Some examples of robots currently in use or being considered for use include:

  • The da Vinci Surgical System
  • Robotic walking devices for paraplegics
  • Microbots that can remove plaque from arteries, perform eye surgery, target cancers with treatment, and perform disease screening
  • Elderly support technologies, such as a remote-controlled mobile communication device used in the patient’s home or robots that assist the elderly with activities of daily living
  • Automated systems that move supplies, medications, linens, specimens, etc. throughout the facility
  • Telemedicine assistants that interface with the electronic health record and diagnostic systems
  • Devices to assist patients with eating
  • Nursing assistants capturing patient data, allowing the nurse to monitor more than one patient simultaneously
  • Assistants that look like animals or humanoids that help children with disabilities with their physical therapy
  • Technologies for cleaning patient rooms
  • Technologies for drawing blood
  • Administrative tasks related to accounting, billing, finance, etc.

The use of the RPA raises challenges and opportunities for health informatics and information management (HIIM) professionals. Robots that are providing “hands on” service are currently under the supervision of a human healthcare provider. As the robotic presence in healthcare increases, some of the questions to consider are:

  • What training is required to implement, manage, and monitor the technology?
  • Is the robot considered just another piece of equipment capturing patient data? How much of the data is to become part of the legal health record?
  • If the robot actually performs a service, is the robot considered the “provider”?
  • How do we address regulations that require information to be entered in the health record by the provider?
  • Can robots help with the shortage of nurses, physicians, etc. by assisting the provider with repetitive tasks to allow the provider to perform the higher level functions?
  • Can robots reduce healthcare’s reliance on “offshoring” administrative tasks?

With the introduction of robots into the healthcare environment, HIIM professionals have an important role to play, from addressing the challenges of technology implementation and capturing information for the legal health record to ensuring proper patient privacy and confidentiality safeguards are in place.

Reference

McNickle, Michelle. “10 medical Robots that Could Change Healthcare.” InformationWeek. December 6, 2012. https://www.informationweek.com/mobile/10-medical-robots-that-could-change-healthcare/d/d-id/1107696.

 

Clarice Smith is director of HIM at AnMed Health.

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