As cases of novel coronavirus spiked in Israel in March, Maccabi Health Services realized it was on the verge of drowning in time-consuming data entry, threatening to endanger patients and undermine attempts to control the outbreak.
The problem was that Maccabi Healthcare’s central labs had to manually migrate data for thousands of symptomatic patients arriving daily from the Israeli health ministry, which has administered the coronavirus tests, to its own system. That process could take three to four minutes per individual because the information was arriving in Microsoft Excel sheets and had to be re-entered into Maccabi’s system.
“I got a phone call from the team that managed Maccabi’s central lab. They wanted our assistance on how to automate,” said Maccabi CIO Ofir Kadosh.
Kadosh knew the solution demanded implementation of robotic process automation (RPA), software that acts as a virtual robot, performing repetitive tasks like opening emails, downloading attachments and reading data. Large organizations from finance to telecom increasingly utilize RPA to help reduce costs and improve accuracy on mundane tasks such as payroll processing or vendor onboarding.
Developing an RPA solution in house would have taken between one to two months. But with coronavirus sweeping Israel like brushfire – with cases doubling about every three days — Maccabi needed a solution urgently.
RPA accelerates healthcare processes
“We wanted to shorten the time between the test, the lab, the notification of the patient and the treatment,” Kadosh said. “Once you automate, you can interact with the patient, you can call the patient, let him know what the results are and what the treatment should be.”
So Kadosh reached out to Kryon Systems, a Tel Aviv based startup that it was already using for quality assurance testing automation.
Kryon Systems CEO Harel Tayeb, who had just himself been in quarantine after returning to Israel from business abroad, got word of the Maccabi request at home on Friday afternoon, March 20. Tayeb said he pulled together an international team of engineers and customer success specialists to work with Maccabi on rushing a solution into production.
“I got a call from my VP of partnerships. He said, ‘There’s a crisis at Maccabi,'” said Tayeb. “They had to gather information from the Israeli government health office, identify all of the relevant data, and integrate it into Maccabi’s systems, and make sure they have all of the necessary identification and communication to bring it as fast as possible to their patients.”
Kryon, which counts Verizon and HSBC as customers, creates virtual robots that work 24/7, ultimately each doing the job of between three to eight people, says Tayeb.
“We have a tool that can identify the processes automatically and then take them into an automation environment, and then execute the automation. And that’s the main value that we bring to the market,” Tayeb said.
Deploying an RPA program in 48 hours
In about 48 hours, Kryon and Maccabi had rolled out a program in time for the start of the Israeli work week.
One of the key advantages of using RPA is that it is supposed to reduce the potential for human error; in this case, that would ensure maximum accuracy in transmitting the data from the health ministry to Israeli HMOs.
That is not a trivial matter. According to Israeli news media, health ministry managers overseeing the corona testing process discovered human error in results reported by their staff; they were forced to instruct HMOs to freeze transmission of the results to patients while the inconsistencies were sorted out.
“The process should be bulletproof,” said Tayeb. “We don’t want someone who shouldn’t be on this list [of Corona cases] to get into Maccabi’s environment.”
Kryon’s tool relies on an artificial intelligence algorithm for computer vision that can create a map of a computer screen. The algorithm, which Kryon trained using synthetic data, scans Excel spreadsheets of the health ministry, extracts spreadsheet data, and inputs the information into the database in Maccabi’s green screen mainframe.
Kryon offers COVID-19 help for free to HMOs
Tayeb said other healthcare organizations are also working with Kryon Systems to implement RPA solutions to help meet the IT challenge posted by the coronavirus, though he could not mention which ones. The CEO said Kryon would implement coronavirus-response services for HMOs free of charge.
Maccabi CIO Kadosh likened the RPA tool to an Excel macro that’s used to perform advanced functions. The main challenge of rolling out the automation process for the Covid-19 testing was the time pressure. “In this case, time to market is very important,” he said. At the same time, “we didn’t want to compromise on the quality.”
Beyond the data-entry automation, Kadosh said the coronavirus crisis has catalyzed other IT rollouts at Maccabi. For example, in February, before the Covid-19 surge started, Maccabi Healthcare did a quiet, or “soft,” launch of a telemedicine service allowing patients to chat online with doctors and receive prescriptions instead of paying an in-person visit. It proved serendipitous; now that there’s mandatory social distancing in Israel, the service has become so necessary, that Maccabi is hiring extra doctors to work the chat service.
Kadosh said that Maccabi’s IT department has launched more than 100 new IT services, both for Maccabi backend IT operations and for patient interaction. The new services include: patient call centers, video chats with doctors, as well as services that allow Maccabi employees to work from home and help managers get mission critical data remotely.
Though doctors and nurses may be on the front line of the pandemic, IT plays an essential support function. “The corona virus has created a lot of opportunities for IT,” said Kadosh.