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Artificial intelligence to reduce waiting list for neurology appointments

The Walton Centre is working with Tata Consultancy Services to apply digital technology to its operation, starting with a time-saving AI chatbot

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust is working with an IT supplier to apply the latest digital technologies to its operation.

In its first project with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), an artificial intelligence-based chatbot is being developed to reduce the workload of specialists and patient waiting times.

The chatbot will complete some of the early information gathering work of specialist neurologists, saving them time and reducing the time it takes patients to get consultations with them.

The hospital in Liverpool provides neurology, neurosurgery, spinal and pain management services, and has a three-month average waiting time for appointments to see its consultants.

The AI-based chatbot prototype will use cloud-native technologies and conversational AI. It will be able to interact with patients once they are referred to the hospital and, through a set of questions, collect information about symptoms. The answers, combined with a medical history, will be reviewed by clinicians before appointments, which will enable them to make an early assessment. The chatbot will therefore mean the consultants, who are in high demand, won’t have to ask the questions at the first appointment.

Patients will be fast-tracked if the consultant thinks it necessary, and guidance on relieving symptoms can be provided based on the information the clinician receives. The patients will also be given appropriate information on how to prepare for their first appointment.

Consultant neurologist Anita Krishnan, divisional clinical director for neurology at The Walton Centre, said technology is a huge part of medicine today. “It’s exciting to work with TCS to create a new AI-based solution which will help our patients,” she said.

Krishnan added that the chatbot system could potentially be extended into other areas of medicine. “We are working closely with TCS and our other specialist partners to ensure the new solution is effective and safe, and improves efficiency and patient outcomes,” she said.

Shalini Mathur, business unit head, public services UK, at TCS, said: “These technologies and solutions will help reduce waiting times for patients while improving the productivity of specialist consultants. This creates a blueprint for similar digital innovation in other clinical settings.”

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