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Marketplace push aims to get the NHS automating

Thoughtonomy is hosting a new marketplace to encourage NHS trusts to share their intelligent automation bots

Intelligent automation specialist Thoughtonomy has announced a new marketplace for automation to enable NHS trusts to share process automation scripts built on its platform.

The Thoughtonomy system provides a way to connect into common NHS systems, including System C Medway, Kainos Evolve, Electronic Referral System ERS, Lorenzo and ESR, SystmOne and EMIS Web, and is available in Microsoft’s appsource app store. 

According to Thoughtonomy, the NHS Shared Marketplace will enable NHS trusts to freely share the automations they develop.

As Computer Weekly has reported previously, Thoughtonomy was recently acquired by Blue Prism, one of the major players in the robotic process automation (RPA) market.

The first automation available on the platform tackles the GP referrals process. Built by a team at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, the automation reduces the amount of time medical secretaries have to spend processing paperwork and uploading data between different IT systems when dealing with GP referrals. The trust said the bot had saved it more than 500 hours.

The use of automation at the trust is discussed in the Microsoft report Accelerating competitive advantage with AI, which covers artificial intelligence (AI) and RPA. Launched at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event at London’s Excel, the report found that organisation that make use of AI gain, on average, an 11.5% advantage over rivals not using AI or automation. Such an advantage is now being explored within the NHS to reduce the amount of manual work clinicians and admin staff need to do.

Clare Barclay, chief operating officer at Microsoft UK, said East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust had looked at using AI and RPA to streamline the admin work that nurses need to do. Over the past year, this automation has enabled the trust to save 4,500 of nurses’ time, she said.

In the report, Darren Atkins, chief technology officer (AI & automation) at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The way I have adopted RPA at the moment is not about doing massive transformational change. It is about automating existing processes to make them a lot faster and to free up staff from the parts of their roles they enjoy least.

“That is an easy and attractive message to understand and means people do not see it as a threat to their job. I also spend a lot of time with staff to watch how they work and really understand the opportunities at the coal face.”

Read more about automation

  • As companies increasingly turn to robotic process automation to accelerate digital transformation, Computer Weekly takes a look at how the market is evolving.
  • East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation trust is using intelligent automation and virtual workers to monitor and process referrals from GPs in five of its specialist clinical units.

Atkins plans to build up the number of reusable process automations using Thoughtonomy that can be made available to other trusts through the NHS Shared Marketplace.

These include an automation that updates the patient administration system (PAS) when a patient sends a request to cancel an appointment via a text message; the ability to receive patient cancellations from a text reminder service and automatically cancel the appointment on PAS; an optical character recognition (OCR) engine that automatically extracts information from NHS invoices for uploading into its Integra AP eProcurement system; and automations for processing referrals and the auto-creation of diagnostic tests in the cardio-respiratory department.

Atkins said: “The release of Thoughtonomy’s NHS marketplace realises my ambition of collaborating with healthcare partners across the UK. By sharing our learning and jointly working on automations to satisfy a common goal, we are able to release time for our clinical and corporate staff faster, more efficiently and at a reduced cost.

“All the processes and objects freely shared in the platform belong to the NHS and may only be used by healthcare organisations for no commercial gain.” 

The automations available in the NHS Shared Marketplace cover both front- and back-office processes. According to Thoughtonomy, they can be used by other NHS trusts, either in whole or part, to speed up the deployment process without needing to start designing and building from scratch.

Patrick Shepherd, UK healthcare leader at Thoughtonomy, said: “It is in everyone’s interests to realise the enormous benefits that intelligent automation can deliver, in particular addressing and overcoming many of the major budgetary and skills-related challenges facing the NHS today.”

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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