University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) has invested heavily in business process automation over the past two years and has an additional 15 projects in the pipeline over the next 18 months.

UHB’s £545 million Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham was opened in 2011. It has an annual turnover in excess of £425 million, employs around 6,900 staff and provides services to more than half a million patients every year.

The trust is widely deploying a business process automation tool provided by Blue Prism across many systems and projects within the hospitals in order to free up resources and create efficiencies.

“We use Blue Prism to allow us to integrate key end-of-line business functions where there may not be a natural interface mechanism, where you can’t rely on messaging or database integration layers,” said Stephen Chilton, director of IT services at UHB.

“The Blue Prism tool develops business logic that allows you to integrate data and services across a number of disparate applications.”

UHB’s relationship with Blue Prism began two years ago when it asked it to integrate the tool as part of a pilot. The trust was implementing the first-ever patient self-administration kiosk in a UK hospital and needed to integrate the kiosk with UHB’s back-end patient administration system (PAS).

“We had some difficulties in terms of how to integrate the kiosks into one of our core line of business applications that we use to administrate patients within the organisation,” said Chilton.

“However, we wanted to allow our patients to arrive and check themselves in without going to a reception desk.”

He added: “The kiosks allowed us to remove some of the pressures that we recognised within some of our reception desk services.”

UHB, as part of launching the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital, consolidated down from approximately 30 reception areas to two or three, which meant it needed to use the kiosks to relieve queuing pressure.

“So, we integrated the kiosk’s system interface with our PAS. What it does is mimic users using the genuine application interface to do updates to the system,” said Chilton.

“You can feed it data and it will connect to native systems, and interrupt those native systems just as if you were a user logging into that system.”

He added: “It runs much more efficiently than a human being would and at a significantly faster speed.”

Chilton stated that 83 percent of patients now use the kiosks to log themselves in when entering the hospital, which has freed up resources and relieved pressure on waiting times.

Since the pilot, UHB has spent the past two years deploying Blue Prism’s tech across a number of projects including new HR systems, pharmacy stock control and patient record conciliation.

The trust now has another 15 to 20 projects in the pipeline that require business process automation, which Chilton says is more projects than the hospital “can throw people at”.

He said: “What we are keen to do is make sure we work with the organisation to identify the ones that will deliver the greatest benefit. We don’t push them as an IT department, we get the business units to identify the opportunities.”

Although, getting the business to identify the opportunities is one of the main challenges for Chilton, as he says it is difficult to get the organisation to understand what business process automation actually is.

“It’s about how you sell it internally and about how you get them to understand how it can be applied to their own processes. They have got to recognise that automation could deliver some efficiencies, which can be difficult,” he said.

That aside, Chilton explained that the tool can be made live very quickly, sometimes within hours. However, this then requires refinement over time.

“We do spend some more time refining it once it’s up and running. What often comes to the surface when using the tool to capture a process and apply automation to it is that there is often more to the process than people perceive initially,” he said.

“You can probably do 80 percent of the core requirement in a very short amount of time, but then you have got the remaining 20 percent, which can draw out, but it just depends on the complexity of the process.”