Blog 16 August 2022

Eight top tips for driving automation success in healthcare

by Jonathan Rapley


Over the years, healthcare organisations have struggled to get to grips with digital transformation of their systems. Now, with patient consultations and treatment backlogs at an all-time high and DNAs (Did Not Attends) costing the NHS £1.4 million each day, there’s an urgent demand to solve this growing problem. Happily, the rise of intelligent automation tools and processes gives healthcare organisations the ability to tackle this head-on.

Investing in automation enables organisations to significantly improve response time, efficiency, and ultimately patient experience. Automation can also empower healthcare organisations to transform processes, with end-to-end digital health platforms and services. If implemented correctly, innovative tech solutions such as low-code tools and robotic process automation (RPA) can help reduce costs, increase staff capacity, and generate accurate data-driven insights that help improve patient outcomes.

But getting started with an automation project can be daunting — and many organisations are unsure of exactly where to start. Here are eight top tips for driving successful automation projects within healthcare organisations:

1. Be imaginative

Automation gives healthcare organisations a huge opportunity to solve all sorts of challenges. In other words, if you see a problem, automation can solve it. The possibilities are endless. By implementing procedures driven by intelligent automation, organisations can improve patient care and experience — and increase staff capacity. The key lies in healthcare organisations not being restrictive with their investment in automation and, if possible, being imaginative and investing in every area of the organisation to unlock all available benefits.

There’s so much potential in intelligent automation, whether it’s RPA, low-code or artificial intelligence (AI). Each can help improve different aspects of the healthcare structure.

It’s important to remember to scope out the process — setting out building blocks first — to gain an understanding of where automation is needed most to improve processes. NHS Trusts and other bodies within the Integrated Care System (ICS) can implement an automation process across the whole organisation. Those doing that across the ICS will reap greater benefits than those just implementing a new system in the back office of one department or silo.

2. Make the most of your staff expertise

To reap the full benefits of automation projects across the organisation, it’s vital to utilise staff within your organisation. Speak to the experts and work together to draw out the processes and find solutions to problems. You’ll also need to involve staff when scaling up automation across the organisation, rather than leaving it to IT teams to manage alone and do in small pockets.

Low-code technology can be particularly useful for staff as part of an automation architecture. It allows them to become citizen developers, and be involved and engaged in the development process. One of the biggest benefits of low-code is that it takes the pressure off IT departments. That means anyone within the business can use this technology, which doesn’t require tech skills or knowledge.

3. Use AI to make sense of masses of data

Most NHS Trusts use hundreds of different (and often siloed) processes to conduct various tasks. This generates large amounts of isolated data with untapped intelligence. This is where AI and, in particular, machine learning (ML) can provide insights into that data. Those learnings can then be used to improve processes and decision-making even further. This ability to find patterns and correlations amid vast data sets enables ML data models to automate decision-making and make value-adding predictions based on analysis, e.g., the likelihood of a patient missing an appointment.

In the past, expensive data science teams used specialist tools and considerable resources. Now, the use of AI and ML is becoming available to all people within an organisation. People can build and train their own machine learning models, allowing them to better understand their data and predict future outcomes. And that means they’re better able to address their unique organisational needs and process issues, delivering an overall better experience for patients and staff.

4. The problem may not always be where you think it is

Whilst it’s important to identify problems within healthcare (e.g., the use of outdated software), they could just be the tip of the iceberg of many other issues, so it’s important to first get a holistic view.

The key is to create an automation process that identifies bottlenecks as you go through the planning process – starting simply but broadly. Once a process has been created to identify the hidden problem(s), you can gather empirical feedback (reporting) on the bottlenecks, pinpointing whether these problems relate to patient flow or staff procedure flow.

Although empirical feedback is important, so is anecdotal feedback – especially from staff and patients, who will be involved in the new process. Identifying challenges early will help work out the issues this could cause, or what impact this could have, and resolve them before these problems become a bigger issue.  

5. Be pragmatic with your automation and transformation phases

Remember one type of automation does not work for every problem or system; different automation tools and approaches are needed to solve different process challenges. You’ll need to look at automation challenges from a strategic and tactical perspective, whether that’s making improvements to an existing structure or reinventing a new process. Be pragmatic in your decision-making process.

Low-code, RPA and AI/ML all have a significant role in this — especially when it comes to integration methods and using data. But it can also create challenges and it’s why you’ll need to be pragmatic in how you use different automation tools for each problem.

6. Look at reusable platforms for speed, ease of use, and lower costs

Developing a completely new structure is not always needed. For some processes, sometimes you only need an update to make it work more efficiently. Within many NHS Trusts, the main issue is continued use of outdated legacy processes and the need to transform parts of them.

The objective is to implement an automation project that’s quick and simple to get off the ground, and cost-effective. Otherwise it won’t succeed in achieving better patient care or improving staff capacity.

Bear in mind that it isn’t always possible to make all necessary changes at once. New methods work better when changes are made incrementally, over time, and can rely on real-time and historical data feedback to inform amendments/improvements. Plan from the outside to understand that automation itself will need to adapt and evolve as organisation processes do. That’s why it’s important to consider a reusable platform that can help address these changing requirements.

7. Acknowledge that iterative improvements are best

Start simple, so something operational is up and running. Then, make iterate improvements based on data and patient/staff feedback. A key strategy to follow is the four-step digital factory approach — creating a cadence of new automation deliverables that help make improvements to the automation process:

  • Step 1 – Look for suitable ideas for automation
  • Step 2 – Once you have identified good ideas, go ahead and build the first version and roll-out deployment
  • Step 3 – Socialise your success – broadcast what this automation process is good at achieving
  • Step 4 – As a result of talking about your system, people will bring new ideas/feedback that you can then try out in the next version. Continue repeating steps 1-3 until the most beneficial project has been created.

8. Create a centre of excellence

The final step in making an automation project a success for healthcare is creating an ethos and culture of innovation. Encourage creation, learning, and sharing of ideas and inspiration between staff and organisations. Promoting automation projects within the healthcare setting will be essential to solving the issues of waiting list backlogs and outdated legacy systems. Most importantly, by sharing the success of these automation projects, others will see what’s been created and how it’s been effective — hopefully encouraging others to follow suit.  

The future of health and technology is expanding in many different directions in the face of technology-led transformation. Investment in automation, whether it’s RPA, low-code technology or AI, can help provide long-term solutions to many problems. To help propel healthcare organisations forward — to become more stable in today’s digital world — the creation, development and roll-out of successful automation projects will improve business efficiency, and response time and enhance the patient journey. All this, while significantly reducing costs and employee hours spent on mundane repetitive tasks.

Find out more

Learn more about Liberty Automation for Health and how it can help your organisation, in our e-guide.

Latest Blog Posts