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North London CCGs to pilot AI healthcare app

06/01/17

Chatbot function in new app draws on artificial neural networks and semantic knowledge to support guidance to patients

A group of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in North Central London are planning to launch a mobile phone app that uses artificial intelligence for advice on urgent care in a six month trial.

Smartphone in user's handsThe app will reportedly involve the use of a chatbot, providing responses and posing a series of follow-up questions to help diagnose a patient’s problem and provide advice on the steps they should take to deal with the condition.

NHS Central London CCG said that within two minutes the app can help people to decide whether they need to see a pharmacist or GP, go to hospital or stay at home. It can also connect them to a clinician, passing on the information they have provided.

It is planning to begin the trial this month in five London boroughs: Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington.

Tech combination

A spokesperson for NHS England, which is backing the project, said the chatbot provides more than a simple text search or question and answer service. It uses a combination of technologies that underpin artificial intelligence systems such as IBM’s Watson.

These include deep learning, which uses algorithms named artificial neural networks that are inspired by the structure of the brain; and semantic knowledge, which can recognise the meaning in the words used by the patient on the app.

It also draws on a medical knowledge base composed of millions of data points and hundreds of millions of relationships.

The app has been developed specifically for the project by Babylon Health, a specialist in digital healthcare services.

Urgent care role

It will be provided as part of an integrated urgent care service from the London Central and West Urgent Care Collaborative (LCW), which currently handles more than 300,000 patient contacts per year through its telephone service.

NHS Central London CCG said the app will provide an extra choice and more flexibility to patients, as well as reducing the pressure on the local NHS.

LCW’s chief operating office Adam Duncan said: “We aim to provide an alternative to using the NHS 111 telephone number for service users that would find it most convenient to their lifestyle. The use of the app could also reduce the demand on NHS 111 during the most busy periods, whilst retaining the high quality and accessible service.”

Image from Victorgrigas, Creative Commons 3.0 through Wikimedia

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