A Decades-Long History in RPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has a decades-long history. Screen scraping started during the early days of the Internet to help users extract data from the web. It referred to the practice of reading text data from a computer display terminal’s screen. Simple scenarios involved automation navigating through a series of steps in an application using keystrokes and coordinated clicks. These scenarios evolved to include more complex workflows, entering and managing data into interfaces and across applications, replicating manual steps only a person could originally complete.

Thom C. Blackwell, VP of Technical Services at Boston Software Systems, states, “In the beginning, it was also referred to as non-invasive interfacing. At the start of HL7 (and still now) there were data gaps, and excessive cost and time issues in translating one vendor’s version of HL7 to another’s, making automation a very cost and time-effective option to interface systems like labs, pathology, medications, and scheduling.” Also in the 1990s, financial data providers displayed data in 24×80 formats intended for a human reader. Applications were written to capture and convert this character data as numeric data for inclusion into calculations without rekeying the data. Line item and payment posting, parsing, etc., was a nightmare for most revenue cycle management teams (and continues to be) in many organizations.

Fast forward to 2004, most hospitals were using paper intake forms with documentation entered by a nurse on a laptop positioned on a mobile cart. Physician orders were most often written on paper, picked up by the pharmacist daily, and then entered manually into the medication order system.

Throughout the 2000’s, data was routinely entered into a stand-alone system used for just one area of the hospital. Laboratory results and radiology results were all printed for paper charts. A Medication Administration Record was generated from the EHR based on physician orders entered into the system manually, then transmitted electronically to all relevant departments.

Manual data entry, duplicate documentation, and tedious tasking was just part of “business as usual” in most hospitals and health systems. If you worked in healthcare or Health IT during this era, you may remember transcribing notes into the EHR, then printing and scanning them into multiple departmental systems.

Thom goes on to say, “There were also many unstructured notes in the EHR. We did, and still do, a lot of dictionary maintenance and test synchronization. Dictionaries would be built in a “test” environment, then you’d have to build the same thing again in a “live” environment, to keep the synchronization the same. Mass updates and targeted edits in one or more fields, for various reasons. Many downtime mitigation processes required an automatic generation of reports for things like a hospital census, medications, etc., which required a switch to paper. When RPA was used, we could connect the data points without the need to print to PCs located all over the hospital floor.”

Since then, RPA has evolved and advanced from a one-area data migration tool to a Swiss Army knife working across platforms, applications, and systems. Hospitals and health systems are using the speed and accuracy of RPA to merge, transfer, and share data across telehealth applications, lab reporting systems, vaccine administration management systems (VAMS), and HRSA reporting portals. Revenue cycle management teams are shifting to an entirely new work environment (WFH) without losing time in payment processing, due to the automation benefits of RPA in the revenue cycle. RPA has simplified the process between the EHR and multiple regulatory reporting portals or order entry systems. According to Gartner, RPA is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, expected to grow at double digits through 2024, despite the economic pressures caused by the pandemic.

Why Boston Software Systems?

At Boston Software Systems we’ve harnessed the power of RPA over three decades and our focus has been to improve the end-user experience exclusively in healthcare.

We’ve worked with every EHR vendor. We deliver revenue cycle management services that speed dollars in the door and eliminate administrative burdens. We keep our promises, deliver what we say, and understand healthcare’s challenges, since that’s our main focus. Take a look at our KLAS rating for 2021, and you can read our customer insights here.

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