While the pharma industry is seemingly thriving due to the growing demand for medicine, many companies grapple with some considerable workplace challenges. According to PwC, pharma companies deal with stretched budgets, tight regulations, extensive paperwork, and large amounts of data that need to be collected and analyzed.1
Robotic process automation (RPA) technology comes as a solution to a number of persisting issues. RPA bots mimic human interactions with digital systems and are programmed to autonomously make calculations and simple decisions and carry out repetitive, rule-based processes with defined logical steps. When implemented in pharma companies, bots can automate repetitive manual processes, enhance operational efficiency, and reduce costs.
5 RPA applications for the pharma industry
The potential of RPA implementation is wide and exceeds the typical data-intensive administrative tasks and financial and human resources operations. RPA can enhance the efficiency of the core pharma industry processes as well, specifically impacting five areas.
1. Clinical trials management
Clinical trials are associated with abundant data entry, collection, and analysis, all of which can be streamlined with RPA.
RPA optimizes the time-consuming and laborious procedure of building a patient population and managing it at different stages:
- Recruitment. Bots can send queries to databases to search for prospective trial candidates or perform patient data prescreening.
- Matching. RPA bots can match patients to the trials where they meet inclusion criteria and have no exclusion characteristics. Additionally, patients can be selected based on their location.
- Enrollment. Once patients are registered for a trial, bots can save their medical information in the clinical trial database.
- Follow-up visits. RPA tools can record patient treatment progress and set appointments for tests and medical examinations in calendars.
Trial master file management
All trial-related information has to be recorded in a trial master file (TMF), including study documents, clinical site details, and patient visit reports. In many cases, investigators enter data manually; and the task becomes even more challenging when studies are extensive and have multiple treatment arms.
Integrated with optical character recognition tools, RPA bots can digitize handwritten or print materials and automatically store them in a single electronic TMF, accelerating document upload and ensuring proper data structure. Additionally, bots can prevent data loss by checking for missing data.
Pharmacovigilance cases processing
According to a 2018 Ernst & Young report, How Robotics is Reshaping the Biopharma Value Chain, a large pharma company processes approximately 700,000 adverse event cases annually.2 By applying RPA, companies can handle such a high caseload without hiring extra staff. In addition, automated processing of data varying in amount and quality reduces pharmacovigilance time and helps save money.
2. Compliance assurance
Pharma companies not only have to handle vast numbers of documents but also verify their compliance with regulations. As the amount of data in the pharma industry is only increasing, RPA adoption is becoming the need of the hour.
RPA bots can check regulatory websites for requirement changes, verify the internal documentation’s consistency with the regulations, automate regulatory submissions, and provide audit trails for analysis. This way, companies can minimize compliance issues and prepare regulatory submissions faster.
3. Supply chain and inventory management
RPA solutions can process purchase orders and manage invoices faster and more accurately, freeing up the staff for tasks requiring human judgment. Bots can also automatically schedule and track shipments and notify the responsible parties of delays.
Moreover, RPA streamlines inventory and warehouse management by gathering and consolidating information about the stock, such as the quantity of a specific product, its location, and its condition. Bots can also detect dangerous changes in the data on the storage temperatures from sensor data, track drug expiration dates, and notify warehouse managers of discrepancies.
4. Medication sales forecasting
One major obstacle to effective medication sales forecasting is the lack of historical sales data for some of them due to modifications over time. Bots simplify data collection from various resources (including old legacy systems) and can perform a range of data manipulation and presentation tasks. This way, RPA can prepare data for further historical data analysis and future drug sales prediction by artificial intelligence tools.
5. Customer experience personalization
Conversational RPA bots can be implemented in pharma companies’ websites or customer portals to help physicians or patients seeking additional information about medication.
Mobile app bots, in turn, can serve as virtual companions to check if the patient took medicine, ask about current symptoms, or record biometric readings, instantly helping hundreds of users if necessary.
RPA benefits for pharma companies
The reason why RPA is particularly well-suited for pharma companies is to address the large number of menial tasks in daily operations. By automating these tasks, companies can reap multiple benefits.
Improved performance. RPA solutions can perform many more actions and tasks than humans over a specific period, streamlining business operations with minimum human involvement. Moreover, RPA can work around the clock with equal efficiency and accuracy.
Reduced costs and increased revenue. Pharma companies can allocate routine tasks to RPA bots and free up employees’ time for activities and can generate more revenue. In addition, RPA can be implemented at a relatively low cost and within a short time. In the long run, the improved business outcomes together with cost savings and low upfront costs can bring a tangible ROI.
Guaranteed accuracy. While employees can make errors from time to time, RPA is scripted to handle tasks in a standardized manner, which guarantees results with little to no errors. According to a 2018 Deloitte Global RPA Survey, 90% of respondents noted an improvement in the accuracy and quality of their company’s operations.3
Moreover, if RPA does make a mistake, there is a transparent auditable trail, allowing companies to spot the moment the mistake was made and correct it.
Although RPA bots cannot replace human employees in every task, they significantly enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and enable effective collaboration. Pharma companies that implement RPA to improve clinical development, sales effectiveness, and precision marketing will be able to better adapt to constant changes in the industry and deliver safer and more effective drugs faster at a lower cost.
- PwC, “Pharma 2020: From Vision to Decision,” accessed February 2023. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/pharmaceuticals-life-sciences/publications/pharma-2020.html
- EY, How Robotics is Reshaping the Biopharma Value Chain (2018). https://engineering.report/Resources/Whitepapers/30bb73a4-1332-4331-a84d-a2326a9469d9_Robotics-reshaping-biopharma.pdf
- Deloitte, “Deloitte Global RPA Survey: The Robots Are Ready. Are You?” (2018). https://www2.deloitte.com/ro/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/deloitte-global-rpa-survey.html
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