NUHS taps RPA in Covid-19 swab tests

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020, Singapore health officials had to step up their testing efforts, particularly in the dormitories for foreign workers hardest hit by the outbreak.

More than 1,000 Covid-19 tests had to be performed daily, with patient information and swab test results manually entered into Singapore’s national electronic health record system (NEHR).

Lily Loo, director of the National University Health System (NUHS), one of the health organizations involved in the Singapore swab testing effort, said the process was very tedious for medical workers and prompted the health group to work on improving robotic process automation (RPA ) turn to efficiency.

In collaboration with its technology service provider Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), an RPA solution was provided by Blue Prism that automates and facilitates the management of Covid-19 swab patient files in a SAP system before the test results are sent to the NEHR .

“We had a tight schedule because the swab tests had to be done every day,” said Loo. “Every day we went to local hotels to register patients, do the tests, and the backlog was building up.”

After Loo put together a lean team of six, including operations and IT representatives, she worked with her colleagues to identify data fields that could be filled out by default before using an RPA bot to automate the patient registration process.

The project went online in just six days and the team was able to reduce patient registration time from two minutes to just 30 seconds. “In more than two months, we’ve completed 72,000 registrations, saving about 282 man-days,” said Loo.

This wasn’t the first time NUHS has used RPA to automate work processes. The journey began back in 2018 when a proof of concept was conducted to test the use of RPA in back office functions.

Since then, NUHS has used RPA to automate invoice adjustments and claims processing. This has freed up employees to work on higher value initiatives and tasks like billing transformation and bot improvement, Loo said.

While NUHS staff are now finding their jobs more fruitful than data entry, this has not always been the case.

“In healthcare, many employees are very experienced and reluctant to change because they are concerned about bots taking over their jobs,” Loo said. “When we chose RPA, we told employees that their jobs would not be replaced and that they would continue to develop their expertise.”

NUHS also took the opportunity to optimize business processes in the healthcare facilities it hired to improve workflow efficiency and create reusable processes in all business functions.

Since data security is a top priority for healthcare facilities, NUHS runs its bots via a private cloud operated by IHiS. Each bot’s credentials are encrypted and every single step the bot takes is recorded and encrypted in a non-rejectable database.

Currently, Loo said that NUHS staff cannot make changes to the bots for security reasons, although she would like to build an in-house business team to make small changes to the bots over the long term. “We’re not there yet as we’re pretty new to RPA right now,” she added.

According to a Forrester survey of 45 companies in Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region has been a growth engine for RPA in recent years, accounting for about 17% of the world’s companies.

Especially after the pandemic, companies both large and small have shown interest in automation. However, it has been found that companies continue to face major challenges and some region-specific barriers on the way to maturity.

Forrester also noted that the automation-powered transformation remains elusive in the region where the use of automation is more of an efficiency and cost-revenue game than a transformation game.

April 1, 2021