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ICB pilots AI on What’s App for patient messaging

ICB pilots AI on What’s App for patient messaging
By Beth Gault
17 May 2024

North Central London (NCL) ICB is piloting the use of AI on What’s App for cancer screening appointment booking and rescheduling.

The pilot will focus on increasing uptake in areas where it is particularly low.

It will start in Islington GP Federation and then will be rolled out across North Central London ICB. The technology provider, SPRYT, hopes this will then become London-wide.

The tool uses an ‘AI receptionist’ called Asa, which allows patients to book, reschedule or cancel appointments via What’s App at any time, without requiring a different app or website. It is connected to EMIS, following NHS England approval, which allows it to access the fields it needs for these actions.

Asa can answer patients’ non-diagnostic questions, relating to their appointment or general questions such as directions. However, it does not offer medical advice.

The tool can also send voice messages in different languages and can tailor messaging to different patient groups to try and improve communication and engagement.

It can also provide staff with insights on which patients are likely to miss their appointment.

Lucy McLaughlin, NCL ICB’s head of cancer commissioning, said Asa would address three challenges for cervical screening in the area: ‘Namely low uptake of cervical screening appointments, low engagement amongst some patient population segments, and non-attendance of appointments in primary care.’

She added: ‘We also hope the tool will improve patients’ experiences and help them feel reassured to access the tests they need.’

Daragh Donohoe, CEO at SPRYT, said he was ‘excited’ to be collaborating with the ICB.

‘Our aim is to make appointment booking simple for patients while also increasing attendance at preventative healthcare appointments,’ he said.

‘WhatsApp is the communication tool of choice for a large part of the population – not only does it improve convenience for patients, but it also significantly reduces the burden on primary care teams.’

Clinical lead for ENT and digital at Islington GP Federation and GP partner at Clerkenwell Medical Practice, Dr Bengi Beyzade, added: ‘We hope this exciting pilot will improve access to cervical smear appointments. Asa answers patients’ queries about their appointments and supports them attending.

‘It also reduces demand on our phone lines and improves patients’ experience of booking tests, allowing them to amend their bookings easily. The system is overseen by our lead nurse and admin team who monitor activity and can step in at any time.’

Dr Doris Dippold, senior lecturer in intercultural communications at the University of Surrey, said: ‘This project seeks to understand how language, culture and technological barriers can affect uptake of cervical screening offers. We will use evidence from qualitative interviews and analyses of patients’ interactions with Asa to understand how Asa can be developed to better meet the needs of those groups who are currently underrepresented in cervical screening.’

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