Robot to help 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.”

About UHNM
University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) cares for over two million people each year, who come for emergency treatment, planned operations and medical care. UHNM has two main sites: Royal Stoke University Hospital, located in Stoke-on-Trent, and County Hospital, located in Stafford. It is a teaching hospital trust in partnership with Keele University and has a patient-centred clinical research facility providing state-of-the-art facilities.
From these hospitals a full range of general acute hospital services is provided for approximately 700,000 people living in and around Staffordshire and beyond. The Trust also provides specialised services for people in a wider area, including neighbouring counties and North Wales. Specialised services include trauma, cancer diagnosis and treatment, cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, renal and dialysis services, neonatal intensive care and paediatric intensive care. UHNM is a recognised expertise centre in trauma, respiratory conditions, spinal surgery, upper gastro-intestinal surgery, complex orthopaedic surgery, laparoscopic surgery and the management of liver conditions. The Trust has some of the most modern operating theatres in Europe. Many emergency patients are brought from a wide area by both helicopter and land ambulance because of the Major Trauma Centre status.

About PSTG
PSTG help health care and public sector organisations pick up the pace of their digital transformations. Our professional services experts are on hand to help design and develop the right strategy for your digital transformation, ensuring each technology solution deployed is tailored exactly to your environment and delivers measurable business outcomes. As experts at unlocking greater agility and innovation, we empower you to do more with less. That’s why the solutions we deliver are simple, smart and secure to drive productivity, improve workflows and reduce operational costs. https://www.pstg.co.uk/

About Digital Workforce
Digital Workforce automates and maintains business processes, freeing up the employee time for more purposeful work. Digital Workforce is a trusted advisor and a globally leading independent provider of services in intelligent automation on an industrial scale, including cloud-based, pay-per-use services. Today, over 200 large global customers use Digital Workforce’s services to transform their businesses with intelligent automation. Founded in 2015 Digital Workforce employs currently over 240 IA specialists in the US, the UK, Poland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. https://digitalworkforce.com

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