NHS pilots virtual assistant for flu jab bookings

More than 1,000 NHS patients have booked flu vaccinations using a virtual assistant as part of a pilot project in the south east of England.

The pilot project, run in collaboration with GP practices in Buckinghamshire, Brent, and Greenwich, involved patients using the Ask NHS app, which is already used by more than 375,000 patients.

Patients in the pilot used the app developed by Sensely to self-check eligibility and quickly make appointments for flu jabs.

Launched in 2017, the free-to-use Ask NHS app lets users easily check symptoms, book clinician appointments, access self-care resources, and connect with live video consultations.

The app uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) and speech recognition technologies make the conversational interface easy to use, while freeing up doctors and nurses’ time.

Citing post-usage survey data, Sensely claims the app can reduce per-patient costs by as much as 14.4%.

Adding vaccination information, a self-service eligibility check, and booking functionality to Ask NHS lets patients, protect themselves and loved ones, quickly get the information they need and make appointments without having to call their clinic.

Designed in partnership with NHS nurses, the tool also allows high-risk patients to be prioritised based on symptoms or underlying health issues, improving access to vaccinations for vulnerable patients while easing the strain on healthcare providers.

The project sets the stage for the more widespread use of virtual assistants as the UK begins to roll out COVID-19 vaccines.

Sensely is currently developing COVID-specific virtual tools and plans to begin supporting NHS coronavirus vaccination efforts with customised virtual assistant technologies in early 2021.

Sensely CEO Adam Odessky said: “During the pandemic, more people than ever are getting flu shots — but that places an enormous strain on clinics, and those challenges will only increase as we roll out COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our top priority, now and always, is to support the NHS and ensure patients get vaccinations quickly and easily. By using next-gen digital tools as part of an omnichannel strategy, we’re empowering patients to take ownership of their healthcare journey, and protect their families while easing the burden on hardworking doctors and nurses.”

The app is available on iOS and Android smartphones.

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