Jun 29, 2020

Key AI trends digitally disrupting healthcare

Machine Learning
Matt High
3 min
We explore the key AI and machine learning trends disrupting the healthcare ecosystem...

According to Global Head of Artificial Intelligence and Automation at Infosys, John Gikopolous, the healthcare industry is ripe for disruption by new and innovative technologies such as AI and machine learning. He explained to us that there are four key trends that could drive this change. 

Intelligent Process Automation

“This is the central one,” says Gikopoulos. “Automation, RPA and IPA should really be running all of the various solutions in the background. From the payer perspective, it’s about collecting information, registering people, allowing one-point access to past information and so on; from the provider side, the entire experience in a hospital should be underpinned by automated processes. For pharma companies, for example, automation is used across all functions, from manufacturing and support, through IT, finance and even the running of clinical trials and R&D.”

The key advantage of RPA and IPA is the skipping of the human interface, according to Gikopoulos. Employing the technologies removes the delays or mistakes that humans make from the equation, thus making the entire value chain more efficient from end to end. 

Standardising data

“The biggest problem across the entire healthcare value chain is being able to call the same thing the same name at every stage of the process, so underlying or diagnosed conditions of a patient, the effect of different treatments - or a lack of treatment - has had in the past and so on,” Gikopoulos explains. 

“It drives every decision, from what active agents go into drugs and when to dispense then, through to clinical trials, how long people should be hospitalised and even what impact they may have on the greater public and the healthcare system. 

“And yet, it’s a question that just hasn’t been addressed adequately,” he continues. “Information comes from so many sources in healthcare that standardising that information is essential. Further, once you have that standardisation, then you can apply AI to identify the questions behind that information. 

Machine learning

Machine learning is used at the payer/patient or hospital/patient interface to analyse data, often provided by patients, and to provide informed reactions and decisions on that data. 

“When you start looking at the outcomes of treating patients in different ways depending on when they came in - what symptoms they have, what were their underlying conditions, demographic or social category, then you define a completely different decision tree compared to the static, traditional one that says the customer journey or the patient journey is greet at the reception, triage, send to doctor, have it diagnosed and then send to be treated,” notes Gikopoulos. 

He also cites the importance of machine learning in clinical trial efficiency, adding that it “could be grossly understated in certain cases”. These include, for example, identifying cause and effect in the use of different agents within drugs along the clinical trial value chain, which can work in a much faster and more targeted way with machine learning. 

Patient interfacing

According to Gikopoulos patient interfacing can “completely change the experience that we all have from communicating with this entire value chain”. Examples he cites include using remote channels to contact patients that need a certain treatment after discharge, or the use of telematics to remote diagnose patients. 

“Interfacing isn’t all about chatbots, avatars or cool looking bots that interact with you,” he says. “To a large extent, it’s more to do with the IoT and making us part of the connected world not just for the mundane and potentially also fun parts of our experience and existence, but also the more crucial areas like healthcare. 

"Imagine, for example, if all our machines, computers, phones and so on, instead of using their enhanced abilities to provide greater gameplay, screens, or sound quality, had actually focused on having the type of sensors that allow temperature or blood pressure to be taken, or a person's retina to be scanned for specific diseases. That kind of interface or interaction could, or might still, completely change everything."

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Jun 11, 2021

How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog

6 min
UiPath software robots are helping clinicians at Dublin's Mater Hospital save valuable time

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover

However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time. 

When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic? 
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses. 

The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020. 

The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides. 

What tasks do they perform? 
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day. 

UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work. 

Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans? 
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.  

Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can. 

Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved? 
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients. 

In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing. 

How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond? 
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted. 

Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.

Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast. 

The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues. 

How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.  

Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology. 

Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally. 

How do you see this technology evolving in the future? 
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise. 

By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too. 

We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money. 

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