Almost half of administrative tasks in general practice (GP) surgeries could be automated, according to a new report led by the Oxford Internet Institute and funded by the independent charity The Health Foundation.
The researchers employed machine learning methodology and expert survey estimates of state-of-the-art automation technologies in order to model the extent to which tasks can be technically automated within primary care currently.
To improve the robustness of this analysis, data describing tasks and work in primary care was based on ethnographic observations at six primary care health centres in England, involving over 350 hours spent in understanding the scope of work for each staff type commonly found in primary care.
The principal finding was that approximately 44 per cent of all administrative and clerical tasks in GP can be either mostly or completely automated.
Overall, automation of suitable tasks would improve quality of care and work satisfaction. No single occupation could be entirely automated, and no full-time jobs would be lost, though training would be needed, the report says.
Automation technologies that assist with tasks such as telephone answering, letter writing, document scanning, email monitoring and information filtering show the most potential, “and would represent a remarkable change to the way all staff work in primary care."
However, the authors noted that “work in general practice, much of which seems mundane and routine, is full of complexities and exceptions.”
Tim Horton, Associate Director of Improvement at the Health Foundation, said: “Primary care was already under huge pressure before the COVID pandemic. As the NHS emerges from the current crisis, this report shows how better use of digital technology could help reduce administrative burdens on staff, freeing up more time to focus on patients, and in doing so could be one element of the broader strategy needed to reduce pressures in primary care, alongside better recruitment and retention.”