Blog 03 September 2020

RPA has been successful in the NHS – what’s next for their digital-first future?

by Clare Rafferty

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two female health professionals discussing processes

The NHS has had to significantly increase its speed of digital program delivery due to COVID-19. Whether it be video appointments, track-and-trace applications or home-working tools, the NHS has risen to the challenge. One of the booming technologies within the market is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Up until recently, equipping a Hospital Trust with robots was still an idea that seemed more at home on the USS Voyager rather than in the British Health Service.

However, RPA has been successfully used in a number of NHS Trusts to automate routine systems and data tasks, producing financial savings as well as offering precious time back to clinicians and operational staff. Clare Rafferty, a Sales Manager working with Health customers, looks at what’s the next digital-first win for NHS Trusts and Boards, now that the benefits of this type of technology have been realised?


Gartner’s spectrum of business process automation


Gartner identifies 5 different technologies in the spectrum of business process automation, organised into a continuum from being task focused and tactical, to enterprise focused, strategic and long-term.

RPA exists at one end of this spectrum with the mission of automating tasks that typically last less than a couple of seconds (for example cancelling an appointment in a PAS system). At the other end of the scale, are Business Process Management Systems (BPMS), which focus on end-to-end business processes. This approach will necessitate a lot of process discovery work and can take years to complete.

In reality, the processes that need digitising in the NHS are already well known to the organisation. The incredibly talented NHS teams are well aware of the work that needs doing. They just need the tools to support their goal. And that’s where low-code steps in.


The low-code advantage


Low-code is an easy way for organisations to develop business applications, fast. You map the process you want to create – including steps, actions and end points – and the software takes care of the rest. And once you have your low-code app, you can test, refine and improve it on an ongoing basis.

Low-code sits right in the middle of the process continuum and Gartner identifies it as being the best technology for delivering fast-paced change. New process apps can be built in a fraction of the time of traditional methods (up to 10 times faster) and at a much lower cost. It handles much more complexity than its routine task-oriented cousin RPA, but it can deliver changes far quicker than the all-encompassing and very long-term BPMS approach.

Low-code brings one platform that addresses clinical and non-clinical workflow automation needs for a Trust or Board. Whether it’s having the ability to build your own workflow automation apps to address areas like patient pathways, bed management, theatre check-in / cancellations, video appointments, portering or many other problem areas. The ability to fine-tune these processes to the needs of specific Trusts makes it particularly suitable.


One size doesn’t necessarily fit all


The issues that neighbouring Trusts have may be similar, but each will have their own nuances. Off the shelf-products will meet a good proportion of a Trust’s needs but there will always be functionality gaps between different point solutions. Rather than trying to fill those gaps with more off the shelf options and increase the Trust’s system footprint exponentially, low-code will seamlessly knit the systems together to fill those process rifts.

This approach offers the interoperability goals of recent recommendations without needing to rip or replace any of the existing estate. RPA has shown how Trusts’ have the talent and skill to build automation functions in-house and the next step on that journey is logically to move to the more powerful technology of low-code which increases the returns available for the NHS, but still offers incredibly fast-paced change to help adjust for their ever-changing next normal.


Our flavour of low-code


Our low-code solution – Liberty Create – differs from typical low-code solutions as it’s designed for citizen developers and professionals.

So you can bring IT and clinical-focused teams together to collaborate on applications. The people who understand the processes use their expertise to create new and improved workflows, while IT finishes the job by making sure everything is secure, compliant and up-to-standard.

This collaboration leads to better, truly patient-centric solutions, built in half the time (or less) and quickly adding value.

Add in to the mix our extensive knowledge gleaned from working with the NHS for over 20 years, makes Liberty Create a good fit for NHS Trusts up and down the country. It’s the latest addition to our solution set which is relied upon by over 75% of Acute Trusts.

And this is just the start.


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