RPA in hospitals: Five questions for a surgeon and RPA pioneer

Hospital digitalization is progressing slowly in general, but not at the German Klinikum Aschaffenburg-Alzenau hospital: Chief Physician Hubertus Schmitz-Winnenthal is driving robotic process automation (RPA) forward. The digital-affine surgeon wants to improve hospital processes – and patient care along with them. An example of the modern hospital 4.0!

1) Professor Schmitz-Winnenthal, as an active surgeon, we picture you in the operating room. How did you come to RPA?

I have an affinity for digitalization and in my role as a professor, I also deal with new trends in medicine and technology. At the same time, as head physician, I spend a lot of time at my desk, taking care of administrative tasks and processes. And there is still a lot of room for improvement in hospitals: complicated manual processes require a lot of time and are prone to errors. That is a high risk in our environment.

A friend of mine drew my attention specifically to robotic process automation. He works for a large corporation and has already used RPA. That’s when I started researching it.

2) How did you proceed? Why did you decide on the Servicetrace RPA platform?

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In a first step, I consulted my network. Above all, I exchanged views on how users can identify the right processes. Processes that affect patients are heavily regulated, for example, by the German Medical Devices Act. This also applies to software. As far as I know, there is no RPA product that is certified as a medical device. I researched on the Internet and found Servicetrace. At the same time, I also talked to consultants. Because of the special features in hospitals, I decided that we would implement RPA “in-house”.

Before I presented the project to hospital management, I found out about RPA products on my own. This also included the large American providers, such as UiPath. But the concept of the X1 platform developed by Servicetrace is perfectly suited to the hospital, because X1 offers full life cycle management. The platform covers the entire life cycle of RPA, including all RPA phases, which means we can manage RPA in the hospital transparently and centrally.

“Complicated manual processes require a lot of time and are prone to errors. That is a high risk in our environment.”

3) What were the most important findings on your RPA path?

It is important to identify the right processes for RPA. It helps if processes are documented. With the X1 platform, we check whether a process is suitable for automation and, if so, what added value it brings.

One learning point was that we need the help of the IT department. Although processes can be automated even without IT knowledge, RPA also has technical aspects – for example, building the RPA infrastructure, the maintenance of the software itself, and so on. Servicetrace emphasized from the very beginning that “IT is not your enemy”. As a result, we got our IT staff on board directly.

4) What potential is there for RPA in hospitals?

Compared to other countries, German hospitals are lagging behind in terms of digitalization. The potential for RPA is high.

There are roughly two areas of application for RPAs in hospitals. The first is simple administrative processes without patient contact. This concerns human resources or controlling and accounting, which are not significantly different from other industries. They are easy to implement, usually “unattended”. In other words, the RPA solution takes care of them completely. It does not require human interaction. These are the areas in which we have taken our first steps with RPA.

“I am enthusiastic and convinced of this technology. It offers hospitals and patients high added value.”

It becomes more complex the more the processes affect the patients. But this is also where the greatest leverage for RPA lies. This involves more demanding activities, such as analyzing reports, assessing patients, and monitoring systems to sound the alarm at critical values. In other words, it is about “attended automation”. Here, RPA bots and specialist staff work hand in hand. Examples here include the prepopulation of rehabilitation applications, doctor’s letters, and treatment documentation.

5) What are your plans for RPA in the hospital?

We still have a lot of plans. Since 2019 we have automated the first administrative processes in Human Resources and the ward list. In phase two, we are expanding our activities. And we are helping other departments to implement RPA. Our goal is to empower the internal team to deploy RPA: they should be able to automate processes independently.

I am enthusiastic and convinced of this technology. It offers hospitals and patients high added value. That motivates me..

Thank you very much for the interview, Professor.

(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in October 2020)

Read also the full customer story German Clinic relies on RPA