Opinion Technology

Turning to tech: how Bupa introduced robotics to tackle challenges posed by COVID-19

Neil Barker, Finance Director for Bupa Care Services

To reduce pressures on its frontline teams, Bupa has turned to robotics to help process COVID-19 test results at its care homes and retirement villages.

Having processed over 160,000 test results, the system has saved over 2,500 hours of colleagues’ time, while also ensuring compliance and admin tasks were completed quickly. Neil Barker, Finance Director for Bupa Care Services explains more.

The care sector has faced countless challenges over the year.  While it’s not one that any of us would want to repeat, these pressures have helped change the way we work.

Whether building resilience, or managing workloads and conflicting priorities, we are emerging from the pandemic with new ideas which can help better the sector moving forward.

One of the key areas for us at Bupa has been the introduction of automation in processing COVID-19 test results. This has had a huge impact on reducing pressures on our staff, ultimately freeing up their time to spend with residents.

Regular testing plays a vital role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and, like other providers, we were pleased to see this rolled out by the government last summer.

However, we were aware of the additional pressure this put on our colleagues who not only had to administer the tests, but also review and action the results.

As we approached the second wave of the pandemic, we understood that colleagues were under significant pressure, compounded further by people needing time off to isolate or shield.

It was also clear that processing of COVID-19 results was an admin-heavy process that was taking up colleagues’ time.

Tapping into expertise in the wider Bupa business, we turned to our robotics specialists for help. The result is a ‘digital team’ who automatically processed incoming test results.

For those receiving a positive result, the robots send a notification to the individual’s care home and complete the required governance reporting within seconds.

Since we introduced the system in December, it’s successfully processed over 180,000 COVID-19 tests. At its peak, this saved colleagues around 2,500 hours of admin – equivalent to more than 15 colleagues working full time.

It’s not just had an impact on colleagues, from a safety perspective, the process has been a success, removing the risk of human error and allowing homes to respond quickly to any changes in their COVID status.

While the thought of robotics in care might conjure up images of R2-D2 or Johnny 5, these are in fact pieces of software running on servers within Bupa’s IT infrastructure. The work takes place behind the scenes, meaning homes don’t have to worry about triaging results.

Bupa has over twenty of these virtual workers. Traditionally, they have been used to support things like finance and processing admin within our insurance business.

But, in response to the changing needs of the business, five are now supporting of care homes by monitoring and triaging thousands of incoming test results, taking action where needed.

The benefits are clear and it’s having a tangible impact of on staff and residents.  What’s more, it will be instrumental in the way we work going forward.

While we’re already looking to the potential this offers in the future, in the immediate term it also acts as an important reminder that positive things can come from difficult times.



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