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Robot helps patients book X-ray appointments

University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) has launched a pioneering, automated process to enable patients to select their own X-ray appointments.

Previously, patients could come for an X-ray without an appointment, but due to social distancing rules formal appointments were introduced.

The robotic process automation (RPA) mimics human actions on the hospital’s digital appointments system and sends a short text message to the patient’s mobile phone with a unique web browser link where they can select their preferred imaging location and date and time for an appointment. The RPA automatically assigns an appointment based on the investigation and the patient’s preferences. It also takes into account what investigations can be done at which imaging centre, the patient’s age and the time the appointment requires - amongst other ‘intelligent’ rules build into the system. The system sends automatic reports to the scheduling team with those people who failed to book their appointment using the automated system. These patients will receive an appointment through a non-automated route, so patients who do not have access to the internet will not be disadvantaged.

Dr Marius Grima, Consultant Paediatric Radiologist and Clinical Information Officer for UHNM, said: “We hope to be able to expand this new way of working for the whole of the imaging department, including CT, MRI and ultrasound appointments. This will enable our scheduling teams to use their time more effectively, helping patients with complex needs. This really has been a massive team effort made up of clinicians, front-line staff, our IT team and our external partners. It is an example of what can be achieved when the agenda is patient-focused and when there is real skills-mix engagement. We hope to see a reduction in missed appointments by giving patients the choice to schedule their visit to our hospital at a time that is convenient for them at the onset of the booking process.

More than 1,500 patients have booked an appointment using this process in the first few days of its launch.

“Our imaging department is extremely busy. Every week, before the pandemic, we scanned around 4,600 patients in X-ray, 1,800 in ultrasound, 1,500 in CT, 675 in MR, and 550 in other imaging specialities. During the pandemic, we unfortunately had to reduce some of our services. Technologies like the RPA will help us become more efficient and ramp-up the number of patients we can scan, since the manual booking process is very time-consuming.”

The process is part of a broader automation programme delivered by PSTG, a leading RPA provider with a powerful footprint within healthcare globally, in partnership with Digital Workforce. The partnership has become a technology solutions provider specialising in digital transformation within the NHS.

Juha Järvi, Head of Healthcare at Digital Workforce, said: “The automation launched by UNHM is by far the most advanced and reimagines the way of working, combining digital and human work seamlessly, rather than just automating the old and existing way of working. I’m really looking forward to working with the trust in the future.”

Heidi Poole, Deputy Director of IM&T at UHNM, said: “This is a great initiative led by clinicians and the operational service. It is the trust’s most ambitious development yet with the robots and highlights the opportunities which can be achieved to deliver real benefits for patients and efficiencies for clinical services.”

Andrew Fraser, Business Intelligence Manager at UHNM, said: “This is our fifth automation and certainly the one which presented the most challenges. Working through these challenges with Digital Workforce and UHNM’s imaging and IM&T teams across the trust has resulted in an automation we’re all proud of.”

Gavin Eardley, UHNM Modality Team Leader of Community X-Ray, said: “This robotic process allows our patients the freedom to book their examination at a time convenient to them. This is positive for both the patient and the imaging department as it will help reduce patient waiting time and missed appointments. As a service lead it enables me to manage our patient throughput, therefore ensuring patient safety and social distancing are maintained. This means the patient receives a better, faster, smoother service from referral to examination.”


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