Welsh Health Service Debuts Bilingual Virtual Assistant Built on IBM Watson
The National Health Service of Wales has launched a virtual assistant named CERi using the IBM Watson AI to help healthcare professionals answer the public’s questions without overloading NHS call centers. CERi can use speech or text to answer those inquiries in both Welsh and English, relieving some of the high demand on the health system resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis and evolving public health guidelines.
CERi, pronounced ‘Kerry,’ is the Welsh word for love. IBM and its local partner Meridian IT designed CERi with the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board to be able to communicate with people using Watson’s natural language processing technology. The virtual assistant was put together relatively quickly in response to the acute needs of the moment, offering answers on the most common topics related to health, especially regarding the coronavirus. Users can ask the virtual assistant how to disinfect surfaces, isolate safely, and even deal with the mental distress of the pandemic and lockdown. CERi can also help check for potential symptoms of COVID-19 with an adapted version of the Welsh Ambulance Service Symptom Checker. The AI uses British and Welsh public health services to craft its responses and the health service has created a group to test the responses regularly for tone and usefulness to the general public. CERi is accessible on the health board’s website, but the board is already planning on adding new ways to talk to the AI
“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,” the health board’s head of value based healthcare Dr. Phil Webb said in a statement. “Using AI and advanced natural language processing capabilities, CERi has been designed to continuously evolve and learn through use and user feedback. In particular 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.”
IBM AI in UK
This is not IBM and Watson’s first foray into the British healthcare system. Just last month, the Royal Marsden revealed its new Ask Maisie virtual assistant based Watson. Like CERi, Maisie uses Watson’s natural language processing tech but is focused more on hospital employees. Maisie stays updated on guidelines and medical information related to COVID-19 and how that affects healthcare workers, answering human resources questions as well as health inquiries, even connecting users to childcare options through the hospital intranet in its London and Surrey locations. CERi is closer in approach to the UK government’s WhatsApp chatbot for answering questions about the situation. It’s become a very popular model for healthcare institutes to communicate with the public. Orbita raised $9 million to expand its healthcare conversational AI as interest spikes due to COVID-19, for instance, while other hospitals are using Hyro’s free coronavirus-focused assistant or Microsoft’s templates. IBM and its rivals will likely see more demand for these kinds of virtual assistants, although CERi will probably be unique in its linguistic capacity.
“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 the citizens,” said IBM UK & Ireland director of healthcare and life sciences Andreas Haimboeck-Tichy said. “This virtual agent uses AI and natural language processing capabilities to demonstrate how technology can be employed by the Health Board to further enhance the stellar work already being carried out by our healthcare professionals.”