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‘We’re delighted so far’ - Three robot medical secretaries introduced at Ipswich Hospital

09 October, 2018 - 15:21
A general view of Ipswich Hospital  Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA Wire

A general view of Ipswich Hospital Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA Wire

Robots are working as medical secretaries alongside human staff at a Suffolk hospital in a first for the NHS, it has emerged.

Robot medical secretaries software running on a smart phone  Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA WireRobot medical secretaries software running on a smart phone Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA Wire

The three so-called virtual workers at Ipswich Hospital, run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust, are designed to free staff up from “mundane and repetitive” tasks so they can spend more time on patient care.

The software, built by automation technology company Thoughtonomy, monitors incoming referrals from GPs throughout the day and reads them.

It extracts the reason for referral and supporting clinical information from disparate sources such as blood test results and scans, then puts these all in a single document which is flagged to the lead consultant for review and grading.

Prior to the automation program, medical secretaries were responsible for processing referrals manually, downloading and printing documents, which they then scanned into a new document. The trust deals with around 2,000 referrals per week.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust's deputy director of ICT, Darren Atkins showing a colleague how to use the robot medical secretaries software running on a smart phone Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA WireEast Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust's deputy director of ICT, Darren Atkins showing a colleague how to use the robot medical secretaries software running on a smart phone Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust/PA Wire

The intelligent automation program has been running since July and is initially being deployed in five specialist clinical units - neurology, cardiology, urology, nephrology and haematology.

Darren Atkins, the trust’s deputy director of ICT, said the robots have already cut the time taken to process the first stage of each GP referral from 15-20 minutes down to five minutes.

He said that within the first three months of the program the trust has released more than 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time.

The trust estimates it will save £220,000 in associated direct costs by July 2019.

“We’re delighted with the results we’ve realised so far and are hugely excited about the potential benefits of automating more processes across our trust,” said Mr Atkins.

“When you look at the time and cost savings we’ve already banked within just one specific area of our operations, you start to get an idea of how intelligent automation can drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

He said the technology mimics the way humans would work on a computer so human staff are freed up from “mundane and repetitive” tasks. The robots’ actions are auditable and safeguards are built into the system, he said.

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