With Covid-19 forcing the primary care sector to rethink priorities, a new report has found that automation can transform doctors’ surgeries for the benefit of both patients and staff.

Led by a team from Oxford Internet Institute, funded by independent charity The Health Foundation, the report shows that automation would affect 44% of all administrative work in general practice. It would also improve quality of care and work satisfaction and not lead to any full time jobs losses.

The report was a response to the many challenges already faced by GPs - increased workloads, workforce shortages and financial pressures. The pandemic has seen primary care clinicians and support staff forced to transition rapidly to digital ways of working.

The research model employed a machine learning methodology and expert survey estimates of the state-of-the-art in automation technologies, in order to model the extent to which tasks can be technically automated within primary care today.

Automating mundane tasks led to a positive improvement

The report said: "Throughout the project we have found that the automation technologies that promise to make a positive improvement in the workforce are those which automate mundane tasks. Automating and removing some of these tasks could free up countless hours where more urgent, rewarding, or patient-centred tasks can take their place."

Grounded in NHS data and observations, the report provides strong evidence of where automated solutions could work in transforming primary care. Countless hours could be freed up, enabling healthcare workers to spend more time with patients, reduce unpaid overtime, and improve overall job satisfaction.

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."