Cost optimization is nothing new for pharmacies: 41% of healthcare provider CIOs were already navigating funding constraints at the beginning of 2020. Today, as the pandemic rages on, pharmacy decision-makers are under even more pressure to optimize costs and make the most of existing resources. As a result, automation has taken on a greater sense of urgency, heightening interest in RPA and automation adoption.
In part three of our “Digitally-Driven Pharmacy” series, we will look at:
- Where to focus your next automation initiative. Up to 80% of repetitive tasks that could be automated remain undiscovered, according to an Automation Anywhere study.
- How to accelerate discovery. Waiting out the pandemic is not an option. There are ways to fast-track and prioritize automation that will free much-needed cash reserves, including this 5-week program tailored for pharmacies.
- Four use cases to illustrate ways you can take advantage of automation to uncover new revenue streams and drive down costs.
Missed the first two blogs in the series? In part two, we looked at how pharmacies are using insights gained from predictive analytics, data integration, regulatory compliance, and mobile analytics platforms to strengthen their data practices. And in part one, we explored a simple but essential criteria framework and prioritization roadmap that helps pharmacy LOB and IT leaders come together to drive early wins and faster ROI.
1. Automation Discovery: Prioritize Projects with the Greatest Return
Beginning with automation discovery can make the difference between incremental and exponential ROI. Consider this example:
A Fortune 100 pharmacy client wanted to learn what a digital transformation would mean from a cost-reduction perspective, and to what degree they could increase automation. The AgileThought team conducted a 10-week assessment of the organization’s customer service and ordering platform, identifying 60 possible automation initiatives. Of those 60 initiatives, the pharmacy chose five projects that would provide the greatest impact, fastest return, and lowest investment.
Five notable automation projects included:
- Shipping Optimization
- Tax/Billing Automation
- RCM Transformation
- Cost-to-Fill Reduction
- Scaled IT (CI/CD) Automation
We’ve since honed the assessment process into a 5-week discovery acceleration program called RxIgnite (learn more here), which takes the guesswork out of automation initiatives.
Of the areas listed above, finance, shipping, and billing are the most impacted (as in tens of millions of dollars in savings or revenue gain per year), and that’s where we recommend you start. Reducing the cost to fill prescriptions is another area where automated workflow processes (such as DURs) lead to significant efficiencies, cost reductions, and regulatory adherence due to error reduction.
Building a project roadmap will also guide you through the next stage: Navigating intricate pharmacy workflows so you can put automation into action.
2. Pathfinding: Consider Workflow Intricacies When Automating
One crucial discovery from the aforementioned assessment was that the pharmacy was taking on the full tax burden of all medications dispensed, not accounting for payer obligations.
They needed to automate tax billing within an intricate system of workflows, and account for the different ways that payers documented taxation. In addition, the organization required software to calculate the right amount of tax for each invoice and tie it back to patient data in the main ERP system.
A patient with pulmonary hypertension, for example, has a mixed treatment plan involving exercise, regular visits with a cardiologist, and medication. Many patients receive their medicine through the mail. If they are billed, it is only for a percentage of the total cost of the treatment. The rest of the cost burden, including taxes, falls on whoever dispensed the medication – the pharmacy.
Given the complexity of dispensing, which involves thousands of treatment options for millions of patients with different providers, the ensuing tax and billing automation solution relieved a cost burden of tens of millions of dollars each year.
The project was successful because of a multi-layered, sequential approach that involved:
- Learning the ways payers process taxes
- Relationship mapping
- Financial process auditing
- Considering the regulatory mandates involved
- Aligning workflows, processes, data, and system components
- Integrating tax automation with financial IT systems
- Modifying related workflows from shipping to payments receivable
If the solution engineering team jumped into automation delivery without considering the patient experience or processes, it could disrupt operations and lead to costly system downtime, which we discuss below.
3. Protect IT & Operational Continuity With RPA
Downtime is costly, and operational continuity is especially critical in the COVID-19 era. On average, healthcare organizations face costs of $740,357 per downtime incident. That’s almost $9,000 per minute of downtime, which affects the pharmacy, system users, and patients.
Robotic process automation (RPA) shields you from these outages. With RPA, you can:
- Significantly reduce errors and downtime – a typical RPA deployment will ensure 100% accuracy and zero errors
- Increase operational efficiency – with the ability to operate up to 90% quicker than humans, RPA leads to substantial productivity savings
- Optimize costs – You can accelerate ROI within the first year of deploying RPA
Another area that is specific to IT is CI/CD and release management automation. As an example, AgileThought developed and released an automation platform called Robotic Process Validation (RPV). RPV is a more thorough, efficient, and predictable way to ensure pharmacy systems run smoothly after a production deployment. By emulating the actions of a user, it validates use cases and critical processes (usually off-hours to prevent system downtime). Any errors are identified immediately and fixed by a 24/7 on-call triage support center before the system goes live.
RPA’s benefits extend beyond IT, too: Below you’ll learn how to use RPA to unlock your digital workforce, eliminating human error and tedious manual tasks.
4. Unlocking the Digital Workforce
Digital workforce automation is best suited for manual and repetitive tasks, such as patient record-keeping and streamlining workflows. For example, AgileThought built an automation solution that updates thousands of patient records daily. It’s also fully supported by a managed services team around the clock, and it is the equivalent to having over 150 FTEs.
- Processes automated: non-billable services, invoice adjustments, reimbursements charts and patient pay adjustments
- Digital workforce equivalent to over 150 FTEs
- Around-the-clock support – 24/7/365 monitoring
Like the examples above, this project originated through the process of discovery, pathfinding, knowing pharmacy IT and business processes, and automation solution engineering.
Bonus: Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Automation Suite Increases Efficiencies by 80%
Product quality control, variability, and yield are top of mind for biotechnology and pharmaceutical manufacturers as research
costs grow and development timelines stretch. This is why we helped a drug manufacturer implement an automation suite that:
- Reduced project times by over 80% due to the efficiencies obtained through automation and workflow management
- Shortened developmental timelines by 50 weeks per hierarchy
- Developed a new standard partnership model that focuses on time to market, improves process economics and sustainability, and maximizes profitability.
Consider the four steps we discussed — automation discovery, navigating workflow intricacies, protecting continuity, and unlocking your digital workforce — as a starting point. The next best step is finding a partner that can help you reap the benefits and advantages that holistic automation has to offer.
Launch Your Automation Project with Confidence
Whether it’s a matter of launching your next BPI automation initiative or accelerating discovery, automation is playing a significant role at pharmacy organizations — and the benefits will continue in a post-pandemic world.
Unsure of the next step? Accelerate your discovery and project prioritization in just 5 weeks with RxIgnite. Through the RxIgnite program, your pharmacy will be equipped with a roadmap leading to an adaptive IT environment and be able to respond faster to today’s top challenges: margin compression & cost reduction, analytics & reporting, regulatory compliance, the patient experience, and consolidation.
To learn more about how automation and 7 other types of digital projects have become drivers for pharmacies today, get the whitepaper The Digitally-Driven Pharmacy: 8 Proven Elements that Maximize IT Project Value and Accelerate Transformation.
Get the White Paper: The Digitally-Driven Pharmacy: 8 Proven Elements that Maximize IT Project Value and Accelerate Transformation