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Alphalake Live: Building semi-autonomous healthcare

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Automation

On Wednesday 13 July, Alphalake Ai unveiled Hybrid Automation as a Service (HAaaS) at its HQ in King’s Cross, London.

A collaboration between Alphalake, Workato and Robocorp, the automation toolkit has been designed to be an intelligent, efficient and cost effective solution for healthcare.

The event featured two panel discussions from leading technologists, clinicians and healthcare specialists.

The first panel offered a broad overview of the role automation can play in boosting operational efficiency throughout the healthcare system.

Health Tech World had a front row seat. These are our highlights.

Speakers:

Clive Flashman, Director of Healthcare Strategy and Managing Consultant, Alphalake Ai

Kelly Pierce MBE, Head of Integrated Early Help and Prevention at Solent NHS Trust & Portsmouth City Council

Annabelle Painter, Clinical Lead – NHS and Clinical UX

Antti Karjalainen, CEO and Co-Founder, Robocorp

Tom Allen, Founder, AI Journal (Chair)

Tom opened the discussion with a big question: Why is it important for healthcare to adopt automation? And has the pandemic added to this urgency?

Clive argued that the market conditions driving demand for automation were in play before Covid. The pandemic has just exacerbated existing issues.

The first major issue is workforce scarcity, with ‘probably 30,000 fewer nurses’ now, on top of the 100,000 vacancies pre-Covid. Meanwhile, 20 per cent of GP posts are vacant and there’s an elective backlog of 6.5 million, Clive said.

Automation can help, he argued, by connecting fragmented patient data.

“One of the core reasons that incidents happen is that clinicians don’t see all the information they need to know about the patient in the same place. It’s not on a single page or it’s in multiple systems.

Clive Flashman

“So for me, the automation is really important. But we need to solve some interoperability first. We need to join those systems.

“We can do that through connectors with Workato, which are APIs, but more so because they have automation embedded within them.

“If we can get that connectivity worked out and layer in the automation on top of that, we can free people up to do the complex and challenging tasks in healthcare that they want to do. They don’t get into that job to do admin.”

Annebelle agreed, noting that clinicians spend up to 70 per cent of their day doing admin tasks tied to outdated technology.

A millennial, Annabelle hadn’t seen a pager or fax machine before working in the NHS.

How are we not using [things like Smart Search] in healthcare? All of this leads back to automation.

“If we can link up the services, we can improve accessibility to patient information, which ultimately improves quality of care and patient safety but also improve communication.”

Education

All the panellists agreed that digital literacy is a huge issue across the healthcare system.

Clive noted that there is pervasive digital fatigue preventing frontline staff from wanting to explore any more digital.

Kelly said:

There’s very little about digital nomands in job descriptions for frontline practitioners. And actually, I can see a fear of the unknown. I truly believe that clinicians are part of the solution.

Kelly Pierce

Kelly Pierce

“They know the outcomes that they want to achieve for their patients.”

Annabelle argued that digital education needs to happen across the full workforce, not just end users. That also includes the people making procurement decision about technology.

What happens when automation isn’t implemented?

User experience is integral to the implementation of a new technology. But even if it’s taking on a huge problem, unless it’s intuitive, it won’t have the desired impact.

Annabelle said that user experience is often forgotten when a new technology is introduced.

As a result, clinicians end up ‘hacking their way’ around problems in a way that isn’t safe.

Many NHS staff use WhatsApp, for example. The app is not designed for healthcare, but it’s better than the available alternatives.

She said:

“The lack of automation ultimately becomes a patient safety issue. Because you don’t have the information, you don’t know what happened in other cases.

“The patient might have an unnecessary extra CT scan, which has a huge amount of radiation all because a clinician didn’t have access to a previous report.”

Annabelle Painter

Kelly revealed the shocking statistic that cases of serious harm to children rose by 20 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.

The consultant midwife received an MBE for her Family Assist portal, which utilised automation and chatbots to provide essential support to parents and families during the pandemic.

“Automation around information, support and guidance has such a huge impact. This preventative approach can really make a huge difference to health inequality.”

Considerations

What should health organisations take into account before implementing automation? Where should they direct those resources?

Clive said that a good place to start would be to list the top 10 ‘annoying’ tasks that take up the most time. An organisation can then look at how automation can help ease some of the operational strain.

He added that you should never assume that a solution is already in place. After all, As Annabelle said earlier, pagers and faxes are still widely used. So start with the basics and work outwards.

Technologist Anttii’s answer summed up the mood of the panel perfectly:

Antti Karjalainen

“It’s easy in regulated industries like healthcare to come up with a lot of excuses not to do something. But typically, you’ll find that things are doable if you question the assumptions enough.

“Even a small piece of automation will typically save you thousands of hours in a large context like the NHS.

“So I instead of asking why should you automate something, we should be asking: why shouldn’t you?”

Highlights from the second panel will be published next week

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