Is automation the future of the NHS?

Karen Gorman profile picture

29 June 2022

Karen Gorman
Healthcare Account Director
Blue Prism

For too long, ingrained operating models and tired, disparate technologies have stood in the way of positive staff and patient experiences in healthcare. Staff burnout rates have also skyrocketed during the pandemic, and the Great Resignation has led to significant skills shortages, placing more pressure on remaining staff and adding to already heavy workloads.

Further complicating matters are the mounting calls for improved access to services and personalised care, as well as treatment backlogs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare industry itself also faces more regulatory change and ongoing financial pressures.

All of this means that organisations across the healthcare ecosystem need to find new and innovative ways to operate. Above all, they need to adopt a more people-centric approach if they are to retain talent and deliver optimised patient outcomes. As many are already discovering, intelligent automation and a digital workforce is helping to alleviate pressures across the sector by providing solutions across five key areas:

  • healthcare operations and back office
  • patient experience
  • patient outcomes
  • staff satisfaction
  • cost management.

Digital workers perform collaborative, data-driven, end-to-end work across a typical healthcare operating environment. These include those made up of multiple operating environments with complex, disjointed, difficult-to-modify legacy systems and manual workflows. What's more, they do so with unprecedented speed, accuracy and integrity, 24/7.

Improving efficiency in healthcare operations and the back office

There's now a critical need to modernise and integrate disparate legacy IT systems across the healthcare sector. The current situation, in which siloed systems do not communicate with one another, prevents data from flowing within and beyond organisations. This lack of integration causes significant delays in completing even the most basic processes, leading to increased waiting and referral times.

Effectively, staff act as an integration layer between IT systems, taking them away from patients. By using digital workers to plug the gaps by reducing manual workflows, data entry and data analysis, healthcare organisations can focus more of their time on providing tailored care to their patients.

Enhancing Patient Experience and Access to Care

Patient-facing interfaces and applications often remain slow, clunky and outdated. They rarely offer the same level of visibility and interaction that digital services now offer in areas such as financial services and retail. Added to this, patients become frustrated by the need to provide the same information to multiple agencies along their care pathway because IT systems do not communicate.

Intelligent automation enables healthcare organisations to navigate around outdated operating models and increase transparency and engagement through digital services and innovation.

Initiatives such as digital front doors, which provide access to online consultations, self-booking portals, digital forms, and multi-channel communications can remove a heavy burden from medical staff and administrators. Not only do patients have a better experience, but they also get more opportunities to speak directly with humans and avoid having to repeat key information about their care needs.

Improving Patient Outcomes

With the acute need for cost efficiency, patients demanding more joined-up services, and staff and clinicians requiring better visibility into patient pathways and histories, more collaborative approaches to care is imperative to unlocking greater value for all parties involved in healthcare service provision.

Intelligent automation enables healthcare stakeholders to collaborate more effectively by bridging the systems and infrastructure gaps that keep data and resources siloed within specific organisations and functions. Clinicians and caseworkers can make full assessments of their patients and coordinate follow-up care without needing to pass patients from pillar to post.

On a macro level, this data can also be used to help evaluate overall population health and make informed decisions around population health management and preventative care strategies.

Boosting Staff Satisfaction

Many healthcare staff spend significant amounts of their working lives dealing with repetitive process-driven work. They are still scanning and uploading documents and manually inputting data into multiple systems instead of doing what they are best at and what they entered the profession to do — delivering the very best possible care to patients.

Intelligent automation enables healthcare organisations to remove some of the responsibility of administrative tasks from their clinical teams and free up staff to focus on patient care.

As well as making day-to-day work more meaningful for healthcare staff, intelligent automation can improve HR processes such as onboarding and scheduling, helping to build engagement and job satisfaction.

Managing the Cost of Care

In the middle office, revenue cycle management continues to be a growing area of interest for healthcare organisations considering how to free up time with intelligent automation. The entire spectrum of revenue cycle management can include as many as 20 different activities, from patient scheduling to claim submission and reconciliation.

Some organisations are improving revenue cycle processing by automating parts of the coverage eligibility verification process, claims posting, and claim resubmissions. They are also looking at how automation can be used in charge capture, coding updates, medical claims, and insurance data management.

Beyond revenue cycle management, there are opportunities to manage the cost of care through more effective inventory and supply administration, better staff forecasting and scheduling, and automating the contact centre. In fact, any process that involves humans exchanging paper or re-entering data, lends itself to a rethink on how to make it more streamlined.

Keeping Healthcare Human 

A key benefit of intelligent automation is the valuable time it gives back to medical professionals that can be used to deliver patient care. Time lost to paperwork and reporting is a continuous source of frustration, whether it's spent on re-entering data for siloed systems or chasing diagnostic documents that could be accessed online through an automated system. 

But the work done in our communities by healthcare organisations is critical and fundamental to society as a whole. And the disruption that is both underway and yet to come to traditional care provision, and health system operating models, will only continue to evolve to meet the demands of a changing landscape — for the good of patients and the people who deliver care.

Want to find out more about how healthcare automation can put humans at the heart of patient care?

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About the author

Karen Gorman profile picture

Karen Gorman
Healthcare Account Director

Karen Gorman is the healthcare account director at Blue Prism. She is an IT professional who has dedicated over 12 years of her career to helping healthcare organisations harness the power of digital technologies to transform patient outcomes and staff experience. At Blue Prism, Karen is responsible for overseeing the deployment of intelligent digital workers into the NHS, working with key stakeholders to maximise benefits and return on investment.

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