Digital workers can deliver major benefits for care beyond the organisations that first develop an automated process, writes Patrick Shephard, head of public sector at Blue Prism
As integrated care systems (ICSs) become established they have a great opportunity for their partner organisations to share automated processes to increase efficiency and give staff more time for patient care.
We’re beginning to see this from the difficult but also exciting experience of the past two years, in which some NHS organisations have quickly developed new automations using Blue Prism technology and shown they can be shared with others – with the potential to do this within an ICS, regionally and nationally.
The foundation of this is a highly flexible intelligent automation platform, providing software bots that can access any application – on legacy systems or new solutions – to carry out any process. It can be used to transfer data from one system to another within an ICS, and release human workers from mundane tasks to work on others in which their expertise really counts.
The main benefit is well known, that bots work continually, putting in many more hours than humans and performing tasks much more quickly.
In addition, their ability to connect to any applications can support the interoperability of systems within an ICS, especially when APIs are not available, which in turn supports the prime function of integrating care. And they can be used in standardised processes that are easily shared.
Examples are already on show in the health service. Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has developed a process for testing for Covid-19 antibodies that has been shared with East Suffolk and North Essex and University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trusts.
A software bot receives an incoming request for a serology test, verifies the data provided and registers the result in its Sunquest ICE system, which adds it to the patient record and sends it to the relevant GP practice. It checks test results on a daily basis to carry out the updates.
This has made it possible to save over 2,100 admin hours in processing more than 20,000 tests at a rate of 23 seconds each, and has since been expanded beyond acute care to include primary and social care, emergency services and military personnel.
Alder Hey Children’s Hospital developed a process to reduce a backlog of 6,400 patients with open referrals. It had relied on human workers contacting the family of each one to find out whether they were happy to be discharged or still needed to come to the hospital for treatment, with each member of the validation team managing about 45 patients per day.
Under the new process, digital workers were able to download and collate the latest demographic and GP information from the NHS Spine and created a report on each patient for the validation team. This helped them to clear the backlog in five days, against an estimated 143 for the manual process, and improved data quality.
The hospital uses the Meditech patient administration system and has now been talking with other trusts that use it about them picking up its process for their own purposes.
It shows the material impact of being able to share automations quickly using the Blue Prism platform. On a national scale this has helped to save 1.8 million admin hours within NHS England, saved more than £1 million, helped to migrate 1 million vaccine updates to clinical workstations, and reduced the reporting of test results from secondary to primary care from days to minutes.
The key point for an ICS is that it is possible to share the digital workers and automated processes around its partner organisations.
On the one hand it can provide a pool of digital workers that can be moved between systems and processes to fill the gaps in manpower. They can go from performing administrative tasks in elective recovery to outpatient management to finance and HR, taking the pressure off human workers and ensuring the processes are completed quickly and accurately. In addition, the price point for each worker reduces as they are shared.
On the other, the automations can also be easily shared, so that all the relevant organisations achieve the efficiencies without duplicating the development effort.
Standardisation and consistency
This adds up to a standardisation of processes to ensure consistency throughout the care services an ICS delivers. It also contributes to collaboration at the heart of how they will work, with the ability to pool the resource of digital workers, find economies of scale, quickly scale up the processes, and develop centres of excellence to promote the sharing of skills.
It also raises the potential of sharing the capacity on a regional basis. We are seeing organisations ready to make their automated processes available beyond the local ICS, and have worked with bodies including acute trusts, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Care Quality Commission, community and mental health trusts to develop regional groups and create the commercial models for wider use of their automations.
Care services are in the relatively early stages of using automations, but some organisations now have clear evidence of how it can help them work more efficiently and effectively. The challenge now is to make the benefits an intrinsic element of an ICS, and look to extend them even further.
Are you interested in learning more about how you could use intelligent automation? Read Blue Prism's Global Healthcare Report to get an in-depth look at healthcare automationDownload here