Chatbot provides new route for Scottish patients to access Covid-19 information and support

People across Scotland who need help and information about coronavirus can now get help using an online chatbot from NHS 24, the organisation that provides Scotland’s 111 service.

The new chatbot has been developed by NHS 24 with thanks to six organisations across business and technology and is available to people via the health and care information website NHS inform, which is also run by NHS 24.

As Scotland’s national provider of telephone and digital based services, NHS 24 has been at the forefront of providing information and care for people worried about coronavirus. The organisation has provided a dedicated information helpline (0800 028 2816) as well as its 111 service for people with symptoms. Additionally, its health information website, NHS inform, has provided the most comprehensive and up to date information for people across Scotland since the pandemic began.

NHS 24 has launched the bot, called Ave, to give the public accurate and up-to-date facts about the virus as well as help and support them if they have symptoms or need specific services such as mental health.

Ave can be found on the NHS inform website and has helped their employees respond to a surge in demand from people wanting information on Coronavirus since the UK government introduced measures to tackle the pandemic in March.

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The bot responded to more than 40,000 queries in its first 30 days, using clinically-approved information from NHS inform.

Ave is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and has been developed with the support of numerous organisations, including Cancer Central, Twilio, Capgemini and Baker Mackenzie. Microsoft partner Amido responded quickly to the request from NHS 24 and developed a prototype bot in 24 hours. Within four days, Amido used the Microsoft Bot Framework to engineer and launch Ave.

Louise Bennie, NHS 24’s Head of Digital, said: “It’s been a great experience working with such a diverse and talented group of people, all focused on delivering this option to people with questions about coronavirus. We’re grateful to all the teams for making this happen. Ave, named after Cancer Central’s founder Avril Chester, is a great addition to the NHS inform website.”

As part of Scotland’s “Digital First” strategy, information on how to access NHS Inform and where Ave is hosted is displayed at the Scottish First Minister’s daily briefings on Coronavirus.

Alongside the bot, NHS 24 has developed a live webchat service that allows users to speak to a trained contact centre employee about their query. Ave quickly directs users to the webchat if it cannot answer a complex question.

Faith la Grange, Director of Local and Regional Government at Microsoft UK, said: “Microsoft is proud to play a part in supporting NHS 24 at this time. Chatbot technologies like Ave can ensure that healthcare services continue to provide crucial and timely support to those who need it, helping save time, improving individual experience and crucially, assisting staff in delivering the best possible patient care in such unusual times. We are incredibly grateful to healthcare staff for their continued efforts to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic and are committed to supporting them however best we can.”