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NHS England wants to use algorithms to handle NHS 111 enquiries

NHS England looks at potential of processing patient enquiries using algorithms as it works on rolling out an online version of NHS 111 by December 2018

A leaked report has revealed NHS England is looking at the potential of handling up to 16 million NHS 111 enquiries using algorithms by 2020.

The draft report, seen by The Telegraph, highlights the need to change the way the triage service is run to better handle current NHS pressures, suggesting using automated processing to deal with online enquiries. 

According to the leaked report, by 2020, 16 million enquiries could be dealt with online, while 37 million would still be dealt with using the current phone service.

NHS England is already in the process of building and rolling out its online NHS 111 service, allowing people to check their symptoms and receive a call back from a nurse or an out-of-hours GP. 

According to NHS England’s November board meeting update on the next steps in its Five Year Forward View (FYFV), the organisation has already piloted several technologies with more than 25,000 patients across the country, ahead of commencing full roll-out by the end of the year. 

“We have also committed to testing an online version of the NHS 111 service, enabling patients to self-triage and connect effectively into the wider urgent and emergency care system as required,” the board paper said.

“We are now phasing the roll-out of this service across the country so that all patients will be able to access these online tools by December 2018.”

Moving to an online version of the non-emergency helpline is just one part of the NHS’s push to move more services online and give patients access to the health service through mobile devices.

In September 2017, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that, by the end of 2018, patients would get access to a range of NHS services through mobile apps, or online. 

This includes accessing their own medical records, NHS 111 services, being able to order repeat prescriptions, updating their personal preferences such as organ donation and data sharing, and support for long-term conditions. 

An NHS England spokesperson said NHS 111 online aimed to be an additional route to get urgent medical advice, and would not completely replace the telephone advice service.

Last year, the director of NHS Digital’s digital collaboration service, Cleveland Henry, said the organisation was looking at the potential for using voice recognition to authenticate users for the national non-emergency helpline, following HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) initiative to use voice recognition for its call centres.  

“HMRC is doing voice recognition on users connecting to call centres, and we are exploring how that could potentially be used with 111 online and other services,” he said.

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