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Automation in Healthcare - should we be worried?

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Whenever I talk to people about automation, 9 out of 10 times the immediate comment is "will that mean job losses?", the close second is "How many jobs will that save us?". The idea of 'Bob' the robot (digital worker) doing thousands of hours work, 24/7, whilst you travel to work, have lunch, catch up with colleagues, friends and family, and sleep, does sound worrying to those in the jobs affected and would make anyone consider these questions. So, is automation something to be really worried about?

Think of it like this. If you had to wait for someone to build your new car with only their own hands, would you be happy to be told that you need to wait a year for this to happen? The answer maybe yes if it's your next Aston Martin DBS, however (unfortunately) it's probably no. So, if robotics had not been introduced into car manufacturing this could have been the reality for us all and we wouldn't know any different. We would be accustomed to this waiting time, but that doesn't make it right when there was an option to receive a better service from manufacturers, and more importantly to consumers, consistently better quality cars and cheaper prices by introducing automation.

As consumers and businesses, there are examples everywhere of automation. Banking has automated payments (direct debits); finance departments have automated invoice processing; my smart watch tells me that I have a meeting in 30 mins and I can read the email that has just been sent to me for that meeting in real-time; my deliveries arrive the same day I order them (no names mentioned). All useful day to day events that we now expect, but don't always appreciate that these are forms of readily publicly accepted automations.

How does this relate to healthcare?

Well, we all know that the NHS is under pressure with large waiting list backlogs and patients are frustrated that they are not getting the service they have been promised and deserve from our valuable NHS. There are also ever growing financial challenges that need to be addressed and balanced, whilst always pushing to improve patient experience and outcomes. We need to look at how we can continue to implement the right technology and help to provide sustainability and improve patient outcomes. One way to do this is to create capacity in the system and release time to care, and automation is a way to achieve this.

So should I be worried about job losses and robots in healthcare?

My short answer would be No, but that is easy to say being in the world of automation. So let me explain. If automation is done in the right way, it should provide you with clear benefits that help you and the organisation.

For example, let us consider what happens when you visit your GP and they request an appointment at you local hospital. Automation reduces the time for GP referrals to reach hospitals; the hospital can then automate the booking of an appointment at outpatients for the patient on receipt of that referral, at the same time an order can be placed for the required tests for the appointment and a letter can be sent to the GP and patient to let them know that an appointment has been booked. All of this can now take minutes rather than a week or longer waiting for resource to become available to do everything required.

The benefit to the patient is a shorter waiting time and better experience; the benefit to the organisation is the ability to repurpose the resource to do more value add activities whilst saving thousands of hours; the employee's affected get to do less mundane tasks day to day, get involved in new exciting initiatives, less stressful workloads and hopefully get to go home on time.

"You should be able to release your time from the more repetitive and non-value add tasks, which allows you to focus on the more complex scenarios and service quality improvements leading to improved patient outcomes."

The same is true of many processes in hospitals and healthcare, why waste valuable clinical and non-clinical resources on entering and moving data around systems. Focus on how to improve capacity, patient flow, service quality, patient experience and most importantly patient outcomes.

The robots don't always have to result in job losses although they may change your job and how things are done, but ultimately it should always be better for all concerned when done right.

Alder Hey Innovation Centre has already saved 1000's of hours across the services using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), can they help you do the same?


Kevin Bell is the CEO of Modeii Ltd and the CTO of Alder Hey Innovation Centre. The team at Alder Hey Innovation can now offer services to automate processes for other organisations. Please get in touch with Kevin directly or with the Alder Hey Innovation team if you would like to discuss further.

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