May 17, 2020

Why investing in the healthcare sector means investing in AI

Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Sean Durkin, head of enterpris...
4 min
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. Faced with a growing population...

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. Faced with a growing population and tight budget, the National Health Service has already started looking to AI to improve patient services and cut costs. In fact, a recent report from The Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that around 10% of annual NHS operational expenses – approximately £12.5bn – could be saved through AI and automation technologies.

The latest AI developments are often accompanied by uncertainty and doubt – particularly with regard to job security. However, with the World Economic Forum recently predicting that AI technology will create almost 60mn more jobs than it will eliminate by 2022, any potential cons are swiftly outweighed by the benefits of this technology – particularly for the healthcare sector.

Working with ‘co-bots’

AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation. However, it cannot replace people. The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system.

Professor Ian Cumming, the chief executive of Health Education England, recently stated that the NHS must embrace new technologies – or else face increasing its workforce by 50% by 2028. In his view, the health service will need to hire 600,000 more staff if it does not embrace AI. Given that AI use cases in healthcare range from examining X-rays, MRI and CAT scans to diagnosing cancer – and are only increasing as the technology develops further – it’s easy to see why AI is closely linked to the NHS’ future success.

Better data management

AI and cognitive systems, big data analytics and machine learning all play a role in enhanced data management. Better data leads to better algorithms, and better algorithms will lead to better data. By offloading data collection and processing to AI systems, healthcare organisations can become much more productive – optimising efficiency as well as really using their data lakes for sophisticated insights and better decision making.

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By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information. With this actionable intelligence to hand, they can deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.

Trust in technology

The swift uptake of AI and data-driven technologies led the UK government to publish a code of conduct on these technologies in healthcare. Health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy recognised that we will all benefit by creating a “safe and trusted environment in which innovation can flourish”. The principles in this code act as “rules of engagement” between industry and the healthcare system “to deepen the trust between patients, clinicians, researchers and innovators.”

After all, no matter the benefits, AI use cases in healthcare will be limited if patients are not comfortable with the technology. However, technological advances have resulted in growing levels of trust amongst British citizens. In our recent survey into the attitudes of UK consumers towards this technology, 11 per cent confirmed they would trust the diagnosis of AI more, or just as much, as a doctor’s diagnosis. While a quarter (26 per cent) do not yet trust the technology, consumers do recognise the potential benefits of AI: one in five believe AI could already offer a quick diagnosis.

As the technology continues to develop, increased trust and reliance will follow. In fact, recent research from KPMG revealed that the NHS could play a key role in securing the UK’s ambition to remain a world leader in AI. While the majority of KPMG survey respondents wouldn’t share their personal data with the UK’s biggest organisations for AI purposes, 56 per cent would happily share their personal data with the NHS – if it led to improved service.

Clearly there is appetite for increased AI investment in the healthcare sector – with UK citizens willing to offer up their personal data to see improvements in this space. While AI technology will not transform the NHS overnight, it’s already leading to innovation and improved patient care. It’s now up to government and healthcare professionals to capitalise on this interest by investing in technology which can improve patient services, treat more people quickly, offer effective service at lower cost and generally help save lives.

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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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