Revolutionizing back-office work with RPA and Intelligent Automation at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and OSF HealthCare


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The new normal is anything but. Between clinician burnout, staffing challenges, lower revenues, and higher expenses, health systems need to find new ways to operate that streamline their staff’s workload and improve efficiency. One way to accomplish both goals is to automate manual processes. An emerging intelligent automation tool that improves productivity, saves time, and unlocks staff capacity is robotic process automation (RPA).

RPA allows health systems to automate repetitive, error-prone tasks by turning them over to bots. Two AVIA Member health systems, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and OSF, with AVIA’s guidance, recently began implementing RPA and Intelligent Automation in their back office to streamline business processes, address workplace shortages, and also free up their staff’s time for higher-value work.

Solving business challenges with RPA and Intelligent Automation

Froedtert Health, an integrated health system with nine hospitals and 13,500 employees, started exploring RPA and Intelligent Automation as part of an effort to drive digital transformation within the health system.  Inception Health, the innovation arm of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, acted as a catalyst for this RPA initiative in partnership with the organization’s IT, Enterprise Analytics, and Finance teams.  Mike Maschek, a Director at Inception Health, said the health system wanted to streamline administrative work for three reasons: addressing staffing shortages, improving employee satisfaction by reducing the amount of time-intensive and often manual work performed, and helping us to serve consumers faster and more effectively.

The story is similar for OSF HealthCare, an integrated health system with 15 hospitals and 24,000 employees in Illinois and Michigan. Kelly George, Vice President, OSF Performance Improvement, said, “Even before COVID, we knew we had to transform the way we provide care and implement digital solutions to continue being competitive. We built out our strategic plan, which included our ‘radical efficiency’ approach to automation with this in mind.”

Like Froedtert, OSF was also concerned about its workforce and labor shortages. George recalled, “We knew we’d have to automate some of the manual, task-oriented processes to satisfy and retain our Mission Partners (our employees). With automation, they could learn new skills and take on new roles and responsibilities.”

Both turned to AVIA for thought leadership.

Building an RPA and Intelligent Automation strategy with AVIA

In the early stages of planning their RPA initiative, Froedtert was going through “fits and starts,” according to Maschek. That’s when Froedtert brought in AVIA for a fresh perspective, leveraging their subject matter experts in the Center for Ops Transformation. “Our subject-matter expert was invaluable,” Maschek said. “He gave us a list of five things not to do when starting an automation initiative. We’d already done all of them.”

AVIA helped Froedtert get back on the right track. AVIA’s subject-matter expert helped Froedtert develop its RPA governance model and served on its Intelligent Automation Council overseeing the implementation of RPA. Maschek said, “Our advisor helped me think through the right structure for our program and the opportunities with RPA. He also helped me understand what had and hadn’t worked for other health systems.”

AVIA played a similar role at OSF. George explained, “We talked to AVIA before we dove into radical efficiency. AVIA suggested areas where we’d find our biggest opportunities and challenges. AVIA also extrapolated the potential benefits of Intelligent Automation based on their experience with other health systems.”  George said, “AVIA shared ideas that we may not have considered as we moved forward. They helped us understand what was happening in other healthcare organizations — their successes and failures and what they were automating.”

Avoiding the headaches of automation

Health systems can learn three things from the RPA  and Intelligent Automation implementations at Froedtert and OSF: the importance of education, governance, and change management.

Both Maschek and George emphasized the importance of messaging, given how concerned employees were about losing their jobs. To address their worries, Froedtert took a hands-on approach. “We explain that we’re automating tasks, not jobs. We’re going to reskill and upskill our people.” And it’s not a one-and-done message. “We have to continue telling the story to the organization, showing them what automation can do, and continue calming people’s fears as long as the initiative is out there. We want them to tell the story that ‘automation made my job so much easier, better, and more rewarding.”

George also stressed the need for education. “Leaders and Mission Partners need to know what automation is and what it can and cannot do. You don’t want employees to see automation as taking their job away but rather as allowing them to work at the top of their license for their skill set and learn new skills that will bring them greater job satisfaction.”

Maschek agreed, stating, “It’s really important to get buy-in. That buy-in cannot come from just the IT team; it has to be from across the organization.” To help the company move forward, Froedtert built a cross-functional coalition. “AVIA helped our leaders see that what we were proposing had been tested successfully.” That outside perspective helped grow buy-in across all functions.

Another critical element for OSF was taking a multidisciplinary approach. Innovation and the Advanced Analytics team of data scientists and automation engineers have partnered together to lead their Intelligent Automation initiative. This involves working with SMEs to understand their processes and opportunities to create efficiencies and implement process and automation solutions. OSF also has a stakeholder group that consists of executives from across the organization, including their innovation, strategy, finance and accounting, and human resources teams. Together, the group evaluates opportunities, then decides whether to buy or build Intelligent Automation solutions.

George said, “When thinking about automation, it’s more than the technical build. We need to consider the processes involved, change management, and impact to our Mission Partners. If we plan to automate a portion of a Mission Partner’s role, we need to consider how we plan to upskill them or give them the opportunity to take on different roles and responsibilities. We also need to measure what we’re doing. That’s why it’s important to have a cross-functional group involved, so they can think through all of these issues.”

Moving forward with automation

To date, Froedtert has implemented two bots and is building two more. Maschek explained, “We’re in the early stages, but we’ve got a strong governance model and education program. Most importantly, we’ve connected our automation initiative to what we’re doing overall. It’s a core part of our value-based care initiative — so people are more supportive of the change.”

So far, OSF has implemented some behind-the-scenes automations and more impactful automations for its revenue cycle. OSF is currently exploring how automation can alleviate the stress for HR. Both organizations are looking forward to discovering more ways that Intelligent Automation can optimize their staff’s performance and their organization’s productivity.

As Maschek put it, RPA is helping health systems make sure their limited dollars are going toward providing better care. “To the extent we can leverage technology to simplify business processes and help us serve our consumers faster and more effectively, it can help to make healthcare more affordable, so we can touch more people using fewer dollars and be more efficient with the dollars entrusted to us.”

AVIA is the leading digital transformation partner for over 50 health systems across the US, including Froedtert and OSF. To learn more about how you can become an AVIA Member and achieve digital transformation in your organization, contact us today.