When COVID-19 struck, people went looking for answers— about symptoms and testing sites, about the status of schools and transportation, about a whole range of public services. It caused an immediate strain on government agencies, hospitals, schools, non-profits and other businesses. Wait times for answers stretched into hours.
As the pandemic has evolved so have the long term implications on healthcare. As the country now prepares to come out of lockdown people are adjusting to a different way of living which includes a growing expectation for instant and remote access to trusted information. If any area of society requires the added agility that technology provides right now—to deliver the assistance that so many people need— it is healthcare.
Investment in virtual agent technology
To help answer the unprecedented flood of information requests and reduce the overload on NHS call centres we have seen a rise in the healthcare industry augmenting its human contact-centre agents with virtual agent technology, a form of artificial intelligence that answers some customer inquiries without human intervention. With common questions answered more quickly through automation and AI, human agents are freer to engage in areas that are more complex or require a personal, empathetic touch.
A great example is Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board which is set to launch an English and Welsh speaking virtual assistant, to support healthcare workers, patients and the general public in Wales who need information or have questions on the prevention and management of COVID-19 post lockdown. Similar virtual assistants have also been quickly set up and launched across Europe in Spain, Czech Republic, Greece and Poland.
AI playing an important role in healthcare
We firmly believe that AI has an important role to play in healthcare. There are some hospitals we can learn from as they have had virtual assistants for many years. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool set up an assistant to improve the experience of patients during their hospital journeys. It allows patients to ask questions about their treatment plan in their own time and without the pressure of talking to a doctor, making a hospital stay less daunting and more personalised for a child.
In London, Moorfields Eye Hospital developed a virtual assistant called Oriel to field enquiries from staff, patients and the general public and process feedback about a new hospital in Kings Cross. A custom made interface was designed which was fully compatible with screen readers to make information more accessible to those with reduced vision.
This acceleration of digital transformation in healthcare proves 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 to further enhance the stellar work already being carried out by our healthcare professionals. Other industries are further ahead than healthcare so it’s about taking proven technologies – with established impacts and benefits – and thinking about where we apply them in a healthcare setting.
Modern technology has an incredible potential to change people’s lives for the better and revolutionise the care they receive. So as the UK comes together to support the NHS, the government and the population. We're ready to help.