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Hospital trust uses ‘virtual workers’ for GP referrals


An East Anglian hospital trust has begun to use ‘virtual workers’ to deal with GP referrals.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has implemented an intelligent automation platform to monitor incoming referrals from the NHS e-Referral Service (eRS) in real time.

The system was deployed in July for the trust’s five specialist clinical units – neurology, cardiology, urology, nephrology and haematology – and supplied by automation and AI company Thoughtonomy.

The virtual worker reads the referrals as soon as they are received, extracting the reasons and retrieving all relevant data and clinical information such as scan and blood test results from the relevant sources. It then merges everything into a PDF document on the patient, uploads it into the trust’s administrative systems and alerts the lead consultant.

Thoughtonomy said that in the first three months of operation it has released the equivalent of 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time and is projected to save £220,000 by July 2019.

Huge scale transformation

Darren Atkins, deputy director of ICT at ESNEFT, said: “When you look at the time and cost savings we’ve already banked within just one specific area of our operations, you start to get an idea of how intelligent automation can drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

The process also supports ESNEFT’s obligations under the standard contract for 2018-19 to process all referrals through the eRS and to comply with the NHS Paper Switch Off programme, which came into force at the beginning of this month.

Earlier this year the Institute of Public Policy Research forecast that automation could save the NHS up to £12.5 billion a year, about 10% of its annual budget, and that a further £6 billion could be saved in social care.

Image by Rolling Dice CC by 2.0 via Flickr

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