AI helps hospital staff manage the COVID-19 crisis

Alder Hey

Being connected and informed in a hospital environment is key, especially during a pandemic.

Artificial intelligence (AI) experts at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre worked with Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool to develop an AI chatbot to keep hospital staff updated with the latest information.

A chatbot is a software application used to conduct virtual chat conversations via text or text-to-speech. The proof of concept project at Alder Hey – called Staff Advice and Link Information (SALI) – was funded by UKRI through STFC.

SALI quickly connected hospital staff with 24 hour access to the latest information, policies and guidance relating to COVID-19, from personal protective equipment (PPE) fitting and training to policy and guidance about self-isolation.

Technology combined with complex language

Thanks to the IBM Watson technology used, SALI’s search features had the capacity to extend beyond standard database queries. It allowed searches to pinpoint more relevant paragraphs, and locate vital answers normally buried deep within documents, helping with more obscure questions.

This is natural language processing technology working hard. SALI can communicate with employees in a natural, conversational tone, provide the latest guidelines, regulations and medical information.

SALI was so successful that the innovation team at Alder Hey decided to investigate whether its functionality could be extended to more services.

Iain Hennessey, clinical director of innovation at Alder Hey NHS Foundation Trust, said:

This proof of concept project is showing us what a great asset that technology, such as SALI, can be in times of real challenge, such as COVID-19.

Having a strong partnership already in place with STFC’s Hartree Centre has enabled us to build on our existing cognitive capabilities and move quickly. This is critical when it comes to exploring and developing new technologies that will support our staff.

Alison Kennedy, a director at STFC’s Hartree Centre, sums up how AI technology is rising to a vital challenge:

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted our need to develop AI technologies to solve major challenges.

This is a great example of how we can apply our expertise in AI and data science here at the Hartree Centre to help solve real-world problems and build resilience to new challenges in the future.

Last updated: 17 June 2022

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