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How Pharma Can Win With RPA

by Kyle Forcier, Model N October 11, 2023

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology that automates rule-based tasks in business processes. It allows organizations of all kinds and sizes to reduce manual labor, improve efficiencies, and decrease errors.

RPA’s primary is to reduce the burden for human workers to perform repetitive but necessary tasks and enable them to focus on more high-value work. Once an RPA software robot (bot) is trained to do something, it can do it repeatedly without human intervention – or errors. RPA can be potentially applied to any process carried out by a company, from very simple tasks — such as sending automatic responses to emails — to complex activities involving thousands of bots.

Because of the potential value it offers businesses – and, in many cases, the speed with which it can be deployed – RPA is a fast-growing technology segment. The global RPA market was valued at $2.3 billion in 2022 and is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39.9% from 2023 to 2030, according to Grand View Research..

Pharma can benefit significantly from RPA by automating mundane and error-prone tasks, generating better analyses, and improving the productivity of scientists and other employees. According to PwC, the pharma industry faces numerous challenges in 2023, including coping with inflation, talent shortages, rising capital costs, regulatory changes, and ongoing Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scrutiny of transactions.

RPA opportunity in pharma companies

Certain processes specific to the pharmaceutical industry are strong candidates for RPA, especially to help drug manufacturers speed new products to market, cut costs, and more completely comply with regulations.

Some of the areas where pharma could deploy RPA include:

  • Comply with regulations: The pharma industry is heavily regulated and requires meticulous record-keeping. RPA could automate data entry, reducing manual errors and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards.
  • Streamline supply chain and inventory management: RPA could optimize supply chain processes by automating order processing and supporting inventory management.
  • Report adverse events: Reporting adverse events – commonly known as side effects – is critical to ensure the safety of patients and regulatory compliance. RPA bots could efficiently gather, process, and report adverse events from various sources, ensuring timely submissions to regulatory authorities and rapid response to potential safety issues .
  • Improve financial processes: The finance department can greatly benefit from RPA by leveraging it for some of the standard corporate functions such as purchasing of goods & services, processing standard vendor invoicing, and support quarterly reconciliation processes.
  • Enhance customer and patient engagement: RPA could be used to automate routine customer service inquiries, enroll patients in assistance programs, and manage patient data for personalized treatments. This helps customers get timely support that drives improved customer and patient satisfaction.

Medicaid rebates: An RPA pharma use case

One way pharma companies could use RPA is by incorporating it into revenue management processes such as Medicaid rebate processing.

The Medicaid Drug Rebate Program (MDRP) involves the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), state Medicaid agencies, and participating drug manufacturers to help reduce the costs of most outpatient prescription drugs dispensed to Medicaid patients. Participating pharma companies must retrieve invoices for drugs dispensed to Medicaid patients from each state. Each state tallies up the total owed for each company but doesn’t send the invoices directly to them. Instead, they are posted on the various state websites, making the retrieval process extremely cumbersome and time-consuming, as each state has its own invoice format and processes to follow.

Manufacturers in the past had to manually log onto 51 different portals (all 50 states and the District of Columbia), find the invoices, download them, and standardize them so they could be input into their revenue management systems. From there, they could process the invoices by transforming them into claims that facilitated issuing rebate payments back to each state. But getting to that stage was arduous.

Incorporating a bot (or collection of bots) could transform this. Such a bot would be able to automatically log into each state portal, retrieve all the invoices, convert them into a standard format, and feed them into the revenue management system – all without requiring human intervention.

This would result in enormous cost and time efficiencies for drug makers, freeing up workers for higher-value tasks while eliminating human error.

The next steps

If this sounds good, then you’ll be happy to hear that this type of bot automation just scratches the surface of what RPA can do for pharma companies. For example, RPA can also drive innovation. By eliminating repetitive manual work, R&D professionals can focus more on their core activities, enabling faster discovery and production of new drugs.

The advantages of implementing RPA are immense, but getting started and scaling RPA is a different story. Building, monitoring, and maintaining bots comes with its own set of challenges. Investing in stand-alone RPA technology will require a heavy time and resource investment from your IT team but opens the possibilities for endless implementations.

For pharma, investing in enterprise solutions that integrate RPA into their offering might be the better choice. Many vendors may not explicitly call out RPA but rest assured that they effectively leverage automation in their products and services to help you obtain all the automation benefits while reducing the burden on your IT team.

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