British Hospital Launches Virtual Assistant Using IBM Watson AI
A British hospital system has debuted a virtual assistant to help employees stay on top of the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. The Royal Marsden worked with IBM to create the Ask Maisie virtual assistant based on the IBM Watson artificial intelligence.
Maisie uses Watson’s natural language processing tech to communicate with hospital employees. The AI provides information on the latest guidelines and medical information related to the novel coronavirus. As the United Kingdom starts to come out of lockdown, those regulations are changing at a rapid pace. Maisie acts as a kind of human resources adjunct, with information on how hospital employees can arrange for safer practices, get tested for COVID-19, and even arrange childcare. Maisie is built into the hospital intranet in both the London and Surrey locations. The National Health Service and the hospital’s official workplace policy handbook provide the databases that Maisie uses to answer questions. If the discussion goes beyond the AI’s capability, it will refer the user to a human who can handle it.
“As the pandemic evolves so have the long term implications on healthcare which include a growing expectation for immediate and remote access to trusted information. This has led to many healthcare providers accelerating digital transformation plans to give clinicians time to focus on patients alongside helping to manage the physical and mental health of their key workers” said IBM UK and Ireland director of health care and life sciences Andreas Haimböck-Tichy in a statement. “Digital transformation in healthcare is not just limited to the clinical environment. Modern technology has an incredible potential to change the way a hospital operates for the better and help revolutionise the care patients receive.”
While Marsden is focusing its new virtual assistant on helping employees, using AI to handle healthcare questions has become immensely popular during the current pandemic. Hyro’s free coronavirus-focused version of its virtual assistant or adapting Microsoft’s template for the same purpose. On a national level, India and the UK have each published a WhatsApp chatbot to answer questions about the situation. Orbita recently raised $9 million to expand its healthcare conversational AI as interest spikes due to COVID-19. The biggest tech companies are following suit on their platforms, with Google Assistant offering pandemic tips, or Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistants providing their own COVID-19 questionnaire to assess potential infection. Some artificial intelligence researchers are even generating new chatbots trained using conversations about the coronavirus between doctors and patients.
The pandemic has also spurred new programs bringing voice assistants into hospitals to improve care for patients. New York healthcare provider Northwell Health added 4,000 Amazon Echo Show smart displays to its hospitals to help medical staff communicate with patients in isolation due to COVID-19 infection, for instance. A more elaborate approach can be seen in how Israeli startup temi is deploying the robots it developed to hospitals and nursing homes where they act as an intermediary to physicians by speaking with patients, providing medicine, and checking vital signs.