NHS launches first marketplace for automations

The marketplace uses Thoughtonomy’s cloud-based platform to enable NHS Trusts to share their automations

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Public healthcare organisations across the UK have teamed up with the vendor Thoughtonomy to launch the first National Health Service (NHS) marketplace for robotic process automations (RPAs).

The project is the brainchild of Darren Atkins, CTO at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT). Atkins spent 18 months working with Thoughtonomy to develop a cloud-based platform that any NHS trust can use to share their existing bots and collaborate on new ones, automating tasks from GP referrals to patient appointment reminders.

Read next: How an NHS Trust adopted 'virtual workers' to process GP referrals

Atkins says this approach allows automated processes to be quickly deployed and will cut costly consultancy companies and other third parties out of the implementation process. All the content on the marketplace is owned by the NHS and can only be used by healthcare organisations for no commercial gain.

“If we can use automated robots to release time for corporate and clinical staff we can spend more time with our patients and do more highly-valued activities," Atkins tells Computerworld. "That's exactly what this does. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they're doing the work that staff don't need to do any more: time-consuming, mundane, repetitive chores."

There are currently fourteen different automations running on the marketplace. Atkins says that they've saved about 4,500 hours a month between them, which he expects to rise as more bots are built and adoptions spreads.

Early successes include an automation for the GP referral process, normally a labour-intensive task for medical secretaries who have to manually process the paperwork and upload the data.

Now the procedure can be completed by virtual workers. They extract relevant data from incoming referrals into a single PDF, which is uploaded into the trust’s database. An alert is then sent to the lead consultant informing them that the referral is ready. ESNEFT estimates that this automation saved them more than 500 hours of human labour within three months of implementation and £220,000 in associated direct costs.

"That has saved our medical secretary for each referral around 20 minutes – and it’s eliminated paper,” says Atkins. “It means the medical secretary can spend time on the phone with the patients rather than doing electronic processing or admin work.”

Read next: How an NHS Trust adopted 'virtual workers' to process GP referrals

Other processes being targeted for automation include patient reminders, appointment cancellations, invoicing through OCR (optical character recognition), and a cardio-respiratory system that processes referrals and auto-creates diagnostic tests.

Theses automations are all customised to access common NHS systems, including System C Medway, Kainos Evolve, the Electronic Referral System (ERS), Lorenzo and ESR, SystmOne and EMIS Web.

Atkins believes that this integrated, collaborative approach is the best way for the NHS to harness the benefits of automation, which the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank estimates could save up to £12.5 billion a year – almost 10 percent of the health service's running costs.

A growing marketplace

Atkins chose Thoughtonomy for the project based on its track record with the NHS and the fact that it offered more advanced tools than its competitors.

"A lot of the traditional RPA providers like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism only provided the RPA element," he says. "Thoughtonomy provided access to things like OCR technology, Microsoft Cognitive AI tools, e-forms and chatbots.

"But more importantly, it's in Microsoft Azure, so it's easily scalable, I don't have to put in any architecture or any infrastructure and I was up and running within three days.”

Read next: Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust turns to RPA to slash admin time

The Thoughtonomy subscription currently costs £1,500 per month per virtual worker, but there are no software licensing or infrastructure costs and the platform is upgraded every three months. 

Atkins says that Thoughtonomy's pre-sales support helps them create a business case and automation roadmap that allows them to break even within three-to-six-months.

He hopes to recruit a vast range of new members.

“All the work I've done over the last 18 months is completely free to any other healthcare organisation,” he says. “The only terms and conditions of the sign up is that if you create some automated processes you share them as well.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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