Intelligent automation in social care

Daniel Casson, Care England’s adviser on digital transformation, discusses the role of intelligent automation in social care.

Talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often not realistic for those of us working in care. The definition of AI, as I understand it, is that inanimate objects learn to act as humans do, using their ‘brain’ adapting to ongoing situations.

However, I think for some care organisations an attainable goal could be Intelligent Automation (IA). This was a phrase used in a panel I organised at the recent Laing Buisson Digital Care Tech Conference.

The panellist discussing AI in care focussed on intelligent automation as the starting point. The use of AI in care might be something that results in the future from this intelligent use of automation, but we need to take the first steps first.

There is some as yet unpublished research on the sector (which I hope to highlight in a future blog) which shows that, while digital systems in communication and care coordination have been widely employed during the pandemic, the use of digital tools in support office functions has not progressed.

This is understandable; however, it is the area where many care providers could be making time and cost savings in systems such as those in the stable of Care England supporter member CoolCare.

Such software increases the accuracy of data as well as the level of analysis available in key areas like T&A, rostering and occupancy management, which could lead to. 

Intelligent automation: it is not something to be scared of and is already being used in some care homes. It is a great way we can start using automation to help us.

One Care England member recently brought to my attention a way that they have used Intelligent Automation to smooth out an essential business process. Michael Butcher from Blackadder Corporation Limited told us of the way they are keeping track of Covid test results. The beauty is in the simplicity.

They created a separate email account for staff to submit their Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test results to. They then designed an automated flow system, using Microsoft Power Automate, to scan every email received that has ‘NHS Covid-19 Notification’ in the subject line.

The flow system extracts the individual’s name, date of the test and the individual’s age from the notification emails. It also searches for the word ‘positive’ in the first paragraph of the email and, if found, forwards the email to the person in charge of the system (so giving prompt notification of any positive results).

Power Automate then automatically puts the data into a SharePoint Excel file in real-time. This means that, due to a few simple Excel lookups, Blackadder can check all its LFD results with no further data manipulation needed.

Data is checked for completeness and reports are then printed to a pdf, which they can then email to the registered managers with the necessary details, including identifying staff who have not reported 2 test results in the last seven days.

Not only does this mean that they have a smooth, efficient and quick reporting and chasing process, but it also means that no administrative work is done in the Care Home, freeing up time to focus on care.

One form of Intelligent Automation is Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the linking of administrative processes by a sequence of ‘bots’ to reduce the need for manual input, freeing staff to concentrate on other duties.

In this area I have been looking at the work of one organisation, OPTSM, whose CEO Richard Higginbotham thinks that: ‘Robotic Process Automation has the potential to break the ‘IT Barrier’.’

He explains that in the model we’re all used to, getting things done or improving the way that things are done is an either/or choice: implement an IT solution or get people to do it.

If the IT solution is too expensive, too complex or can’t be implemented straight away, the choice is even starker: do it/don’t do it. This IT barrier leads to manual workarounds and missed opportunities.

Richards’ belief is that RPA can create a third way. It can be used to automate existing processes or to build new digital journeys, without having to make changes to existing systems.

A scalable and flexible team of ‘bots’ joining up systems that already exist becomes a powerful tool and a bridge to the next generation of interoperability: such a system can create a transformation momentum and mean that you can slot in new systems to an already robotised process. Moreover,  RPA can be implemented with no up-front cost and benefits can be seen in a very short space of time.

This article originally appeared on the Care England blog. Read it here.

Photo Credit – Centre for Ageing Better

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