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Robotic Process Automation in Singapore General Hospital

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Increasing efficiency, accuracy, standardisation, patient satisfaction, and cost savings are just a few benefits of automating patient care in hospitals. Healthcare organisations can streamline procedures, improve patient outcomes, and provide high-quality, patient-centred care by utilising automation technologies.

As a result, in March 2022, the Physiotherapy Department and Artificial Intelligence and Automation Unit at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) became the first in Singapore to deploy Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a software robot or “bot,” to collect Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs).

This was done to learn what health outcomes matter to patients. PROMs are questionnaires that healthcare professionals use to learn how their patients’ conditions influence them and their capacity to carry out daily tasks.

According to Adjunct Assistant Professor Philip Cheong, Senior Principal Physiotherapist at SGH, the desirable health outcomes of a young, active basketball player differ significantly from those of a housewife. PROMs will enable for a more accurate assessment of patient status and refinement of rehabilitation approaches based on a predetermined objective.

Patients with musculoskeletal problems who see an SGH physiotherapist will get an SMS the day before their visit reminding them to fill out the PROMs questionnaire online. Those who are neglected may still do so before seeing the physiotherapist on the day of their appointment.

Before physiotherapists see their patients in the clinic, the algorithm will collect the submitted responses, calculate the PROMs score, and email the respective physiotherapists with the results.

However, the Department is not new to the use of PROMs. Historically, the collection procedure was laborious and difficult. It was not surprising that less than 8% of the musculoskeletal patients they saw in 2019 completed the questionnaire during a six-week trial. Patients are only required to do so upon arrival at the physiotherapy clinic.

Many arrived just in time for their appointment and were required to spend approximately five minutes completing the questionnaire during consultation. The physiotherapist then spends an additional eight minutes reviewing the responses with the patient, calculating the PROMs score, and documenting the results.

When analysing the data between March and December of 2022, the Department discovered that by utilising RPA, they saved more than 1,350 hours by not having to perform laborious calculations and documentation. This was despite a patient response rate of approximately 25%, or roughly 10,000 of the 41,000 patients seen during the period. Therefore, physiotherapists were able to devote more time to patient care.

In the physiotherapy clinic, the Physiotherapy Department treats nearly 1,400 patients with musculoskeletal disorders each week. Already, preparations are ongoing to distribute the questionnaire in additional vernacular languages by the end of the year to increase the response rate to 50%.

Additionally, they intend to expand the use of RPA in the collection of PROMs to other clinical specialities. According to Chan Wai Ching, Assistant Manager, Artificial Intelligence & Automation Unit and RPA Lead, SGH, while robotic process automation improves the back-end processes, depending on the use case, it may also assist patients.

The hospital will continue to explore the wider use of RPA to automate repetitive manual procedures and complement clinical workflows. Staff can then focus on a more sophisticated job that involves a thought process.

Since 2020, SGH has successfully implemented 36 RPA use cases, saved more than 52,500 man-hours and achieved a productivity increase of more than S$1.8 million. Other RPA use cases involve charging patients automatically for laboratory tests completed at specialist outpatient clinics as well as gathering and processing data from an online form for medication delivery services.


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