CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Appl Clin Inform 2021; 12(03): 686-697
DOI: 10.1055/s-0041-1731744
Special Section on Workflow Automation

Identifying Opportunities for Workflow Automation in Health Care: Lessons Learned from Other Industries

Teresa Zayas-Cabán
1   Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Saira Naim Haque
2   RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, United States
Nicole Kemper
3   Clinovations Government + Health, Washington, District of Columbia, United States
› Author Affiliations
Funding This work was partially funded through U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contract number HHSP233201600030I, task order number: HHSP75P00119F37001 with Clinovations Government + Health.


Background Workflow automation, which involves identifying sequences of tasks that can be streamlined by using technology and modern computing, offers opportunities to address the United States health care system's challenges with quality, safety, and efficiency. Other industries have successfully implemented workflow automation to address these concerns, and lessons learned from those experiences may inform its application in health care.

Objective Our aim was to identify and synthesize (1) current approaches in workflow automation across industries, (2) opportunities for applying workflow automation in health care, and (3) considerations for designing and implementing workflow automation that may be relevant to health care.

Methods We conducted a targeted review of peer-reviewed and gray literature on automation approaches. We identified relevant databases and terms to conduct the searches across sources and reviewed abstracts to identify 123 relevant articles across 11 disciplines.

Results Workflow automation is used across industries such as finance, manufacturing, and travel to increase efficiency, productivity, and quality. We found automation ranged from low to full automation, and this variation was associated with task and technology characteristics. The level of automation is linked to how well a task is defined, whether a task is repetitive, the degree of human intervention and decision-making required, and the sophistication of available technology. We found that identifying automation goals and assessing whether those goals were reached was critical, and ongoing monitoring and improvement would help to ensure successful automation.

Conclusion Use of workflow automation in other industries can inform automating health care workflows by considering the critical role of people, process, and technology in design, testing, implementation, use, and ongoing monitoring of automated workflows. Insights gained from other industries will inform an interdisciplinary effort by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to outline priorities for advancing health care workflow automation.

Protection of Human and Animal Subjects

There were no human and/or animal subjects included in this literature review.

Authors' Contributions

T.Z.C., S.N.H., and N.K. led the conception of the article. All authors revised the article critically and provided intellectual content, and they also approved the final version for submission. The order of authors listed in the manuscript has been approved by all authors.

Supplementary Material

Publication History

Received: 09 February 2021

Accepted: 25 May 2021

Article published online:
28 July 2021

© 2021. The Author(s). This is an open access article published by Thieme under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivative-NonCommercial License, permitting copying and reproduction so long as the original work is given appropriate credit. Contents may not be used for commercial purposes, or adapted, remixed, transformed or built upon. (

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