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Alder Hey develops AI 'chatbot' to help staff manage Covid-19 crisis

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool is developing, in collaboration with Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre, an AI ‘chatbot’ for staff, designed to help keep them updated to the latest information, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The chatbot in development, which is called SALI (Staff Advice & Link Information), aims to quickly connect hospital staff with 24hr access to the latest information, policies and guidance relating to all matters Covid-19, from PPE fitting and training, to policy and guidance about self-isolation.

In a proof of concept programme funded by STFC, leading AI experts at STFC’s Hartree Centre, at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City region, have been using IBM Watson technology to develop the chatbot interface, linking directly into the hospital’s internal documentation to create a search capability that can provide answers to specialist user questions at any time. 

Thanks to IBM Watson technology, SALI’s search features will have the capacity to extend beyond standard database queries, to search for relevant paragraphs and answers buried deep within documents to answer more obscure questions. Using natural language processing technology, SALI can communicate with employees in a natural, conversational tone, to provide the latest guidelines, regulations and medical information.  The innovation team at Alder Hey are now looking to extend this functionality to more services.

Mr Iain Hennessey, Clinical Director of Innovation at Alder Hey NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This proof of concept project is showing us what a great asset that technology, such as SALI, can be in times of real challenge, such as Covid-19. Having a strong partnership already in place with STFC’s Hartree Centre has enabled us build on our existing cognitive capabilities and move quickly, which is critical when it comes to exploring and developing new technologies that will support our staff.”

Alder Hey has worked previously with the Hartree Centre to develop an AI chatbot specifically for patients on its website. Designed to personalise children’s healthcare and improve the patient experience.    

Science Minister Amanda Solloway recently said:

“I am delighted that some of our most talented innovators have stepped up to identify how new technologies like AI can help ease the day-to-day jobs of our amazing healthcare workers, who we all owe so much to.”  

Alison Kennedy, Director at STFC’s Hartree Centre, recently said:

“SALI has real the potential to provide an efficient and effective way to provide fast and trusted information to the staff that need it in times of pressure. The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted our need to develop AI technologies to solve major challenges. This project is giving us valuable experience in designing the search tools for use in situations where the documented advice is not only changing frequently but which also presents in many different formats from numerous sources. This is a great example of how we can apply our expertise in AI and data science here at the Hartree Centre to help solve to real world problems and build resilience to new challenges in the future.”


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