NHS Wales launches ‘caring’ AI virtual agent using IBM Watson

The solution answers common questions about COVID-19 in Welsh or English.
By Tammy Lovell
04:04 am
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Credit: CERi 

As Wales comes out of lockdown, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board has announced the launch of its Welsh and English-speaking virtual agent, which answers common questions about COVID-19 in a caring tone.

The solution, called CERi, brings together IBM Watson Assistant, natural language processing capabilities from IBM Research, and state-of-art enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) search capabilities from IBM Watson Discovery.

It is intended to support patients, healthcare workers and the public by providing critical information from trusted sources on prevention and management of the virus.  

CERi, which can be accessed via the Health Board’s website, has been designed to show empathy and continuously evolve through user feedback. 

Technology solutions provider Meridian IT has been working to develop the capability of the virtual agent, including expanding the question base used by the tool, integration into the Welsh Ambulance Services Symptom tracker, the integration of the Welsh language translation and the user interface.

Integrating the Welsh Ambulance Service Symptom Checker has provided easy access for people to assess their clinical signs and symptoms.  

WHY IT MATTERS 

CERi aims to answer the flood of information requests about COVID-19, reducing the overload on NHS call centres.

The question and answer content used to train the virtual agent is available on an open source basis via Github, allowing other NHS trusts to develop and train their own virtual agents at speed.

THE LARGER CONTEXT 

London’s Royal Marsden Hospital also recently launched a virtual AI agent using IBM Watson. The agent, called Ask Maisie, will support key workers post lockdown by ensuring they have immediate access to the latest COVID-19 HR-related information and policies. 

ON THE RECORD 

Dr Phil Webb, head of value-based healthcare at the Health Board, said: “From our testing we have already seen significant user interaction and even had over 400 chat episodes recorded in one day. Now launched, we expect this level of interaction to grow rapidly, as we expand CERi with different access points.

“We have tried to have a particular focus on the language and way her dialogue shows empathy, caring and understanding. Welsh people speak from their hearts and making sure CERi shows empathy and understanding is critical to us.

“She is also a great example of how AI can help with emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing; CERi supporting people dealing with emotions, anxieties and feelings of uncertainty, especially at this moment in time, is just as important as providing helpful advice, specifically on COVID-19.”

Andreas Haimboeck-Tichy, director, healthcare and life sciences, IBM UK & Ireland, said: "Innovation is not just limited to the clinical environment; it is also about how the NHS and the health and care system connect with people. This is a great example of how technology can be used to empower citizens.”

More regional news

Technology Partnership Plc (TTP), CoTest, COVID-19

Credit: Technology Partnership Plc (TTP) CoTest device 

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