Remaking the Mailroom: How advanced automation can reduce paper, drive business efficiency and enable growth

Posted by Patrick Bores on June 12th, 2023
Author
Patrick Bores
Patrick Bores is the Chief Information Officer at Smart Data Solutions leading product and technology. He joined Smart Data Solutions in 2004 and has risen through the ranks of the company, starting as a developer and progressing to his current leadership role. Patrick has helped pave the way in the development of many foundational products and capabilities at SDS.

Healthcare payers have a paper problem. That is, there’s far too much of it, even in 2023.

Due to the forms-heavy nature of the business, most healthcare insurance companies and other supporting businesses find themselves awash in paperwork. While most companies have migrated to electronic submittal for many types of forms, they still receive a significant percentage of documentation via old-fashioned snail mail. If it’s not processed quickly and accurately, the flood of paper can easily overwhelm employees, bog down business processes, and result in poor customer service, among other issues.

Reducing paper is a common and worthwhile goal among most healthcare companies, which is why many payers have already enlisted the help of outsourced mailroom services to sort, scan and digitize their documents. What they may not realize, however, is that modern technology presents a huge opportunity to do much more than just keep paper forms under control. With today’s automation, AI and machine learning capabilities, companies can turn the mailroom into an engine for operational efficiency and business growth.

Why paper is such a drag

In our fast-moving digital era, consumers and business customers are placing ever-heightening expectations on service providers in every industry. The ubiquity of high-speed internet, e-commerce and mobile access has made near-instant gratification the norm; hence, organizations of all kinds are under constant pressure to operate with speed, agility and flexibility. Unfortunately, receiving mountains of paper mail runs counter to those goals.

Healthcare payers, in particular, are among the most paper-dependent businesses in the world, taking in a never-ending stream of enrollment forms, insurance claims, appeals, lab results, physicians’ correspondence, and many other documents. As the paper piles up, so do the problems.

Most mail processing centers are still largely manual operations, relying on people to do the time-consuming work of sorting and prepping documents for scanning, which often involves handoffs between multiple teams. In addition to the built-in costs and inefficiencies of dealing with paper, any errors in the process can lead to business disruptions, complex rework, and unhappy customers. As the business grows and the volume of incoming paper increases, adding more people to the mailroom process only compounds the same problems.

All told, a large volume of paper mail can be a heavy burden for any business to bear, preventing profitable growth and undermining customer service. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Automation enables agility

As nearly every organization counts digital transformation among its highest priorities, automation technologies are helping them streamline operations across the business. From sales and marketing to finance and HR, companies are deploying bots to perform repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than ever before. The mailroom is no exception, with many providers already using some level of automation to scan and route digital documents. The majority, however, have yet to realize the true potential of mailroom automation.

For companies with massive paper processing needs, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) represent the next step in the automation journey. When integrated with basic automated processes, AI and ML can make mailroom operations vastly more sophisticated and efficient. More than just converting paper to digital files, an intelligent system can “read” the information, interpret the context, and route documents electronically to appropriate parties. Beyond the ability to absorb standardized forms, AI enables the system to process free-form handwriting and images with remarkable accuracy, and ML ensures the system only gets smarter with every batch of mail it processes. Perhaps most importantly, such an advanced system can extract pertinent data points from scanned forms and integrate with other workflows throughout the business, enabling staff and other systems to take swift action as needed.

When put into practice by healthcare payers, these capabilities make the mailroom more than a mailroom; it becomes a center for digital business intelligence. Envision, for example, a system that can automatically summarize patient medical records, capturing and routing the most important information payers need to adjudicate claims and other processes. The same mailroom technology can also handle the intake of prior authorization requests, helping the utilization management team work faster and smarter. Further, it can automatically index appeals, even detecting the writer’s tone and level of urgency to prioritize which appeals are handled first. Over time, the efficient integration of data between these processes can not only save the company thousands of hours of human effort, but it can also facilitate better decision-making to improve key business metrics across the board.

Benefits abound

The use cases for mailroom automation are near-limitless, with results varying widely based on the type of business and the paperwork they need to process. In general, however, companies can expect to realize some attractive benefits, which could include:

A more efficient future

For now, companies that utilize mailroom automation to its full potential stand to gain a significant advantage over less technologically inclined competitors. But that won’t be the case for long. As with many business technologies, what’s considered leading-edge today will likely become table stakes tomorrow as competitive pressure drives adoption.

Further down the road, healthcare payers may not have a choice but to automate the digital mailroom. That is, regulatory bodies may one day require companies to adhere to such technological standards in the name of consumer rights (fast turnaround times and hardened security) and sustainability (reduced paper consumption).

Whether it happens tomorrow or ten years from now, the fully automated digital mailroom is coming to liberate companies from the burdensome weight of excessive paper. As it becomes ubiquitous among healthcare payers, it will play a meaningful, if underrecognized, role in driving business results and creating a better healthcare experience for millions of people.

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