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Home E Featured News E WhatsApp and AI get NHS first approval for appointment scheduling

WhatsApp and AI get NHS first approval for appointment scheduling

NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board (ICB), the Islington GP Federation and technology provider SPRYT are piloting the use of WhatsApp and AI to streamline cancer screening appointment booking and rescheduling. This is the first time WhatsApp and AI have been approved by the NHS for appointment scheduling.

The pilot is focused on increasing the uptake of cervical cancer screening, where uptake is particularly low in some underserved population groups in London, with less than 10% response rate to cervical screening invitations in some communities. Starting with one GP Federation, the pilot will be rolled out across North Central London, and it is hoped across London.

The technology involves the use of an AI receptionist, Asa, that streamlines the appointment management process for patients and staff. It allows patients to book, reschedule and cancel appointments via WhatsApp at any time, without requiring any new app or website. Patients can interact with Asa like they would with a human receptionist. Asa provides reassurance and answers patients’ questions (non-diagnostic) relating to their appointment or general questions (directions etc) but never offers medical advice. Asa can also send voice messages in patients’ recorded language to improve uptake in patients with a low command of English.

Asa incorporates behavioural science and generative AI to tailor language and messaging to different patient groups, improving communication and engagement with patients and optimising their attendance rate. This is particularly important in preventative healthcare where patients are encouraged to attend appointments even when they are not experiencing symptoms. The intervention was designed with input from behavioural science and intercultural communications experts.

WhatsApp conversation demonstrating how appointments can be booked

Dr Doris Dippold, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Communications, University of Surrey, “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.”

Dr Bengi Beyzade, Clinical Lead for ENT & Digital, Islington GP Federation and GP partner at Clerkenwell Medical Practice. “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.”

Lucy McLaughlin, NHS NCL Head of Cancer Commissioning, “Asa is designed to address three key challenges for cervical screening in North Central London, namely low uptake of cervical screening appointments, low engagement amongst some patient population segments, and non-attendance of appointments in primary care. We also hope the tool will improve patients’ experiences and help them feel reassured to access the tests they need.”

Daragh Donohoe, CEO, SPRYT, “We are excited to be collaborating with the NHS in North London. Our aim is to make appointment booking simple for patients while also increasing attendance at preventative healthcare appointments. 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.”

Asa leverages AI to predict and reduce no-shows, providing clinic staff with actionable insights on which patients are likely to miss their appointment. Automating scheduling will reduce organisational pressures in the NHS and enable the medical admin staff to focus on underserved patients as well as freeing up time to focus on other tasks.

Additionally, this proactive approach in managing patient appointments and interactions can lead to a more positive perception of the healthcare administration process, shifting the view of medical administrators from gatekeepers to facilitators of care.

The NHS has seen the introduction of a number of digital advancements since the COVID pandemic. The implementation of WhatsApp and AI for scheduling is a ground-breaking initiative that is expected to help facilitate early disease detection, improve patient survival as well as reduce operational inefficiencies and late-stage disease burden on the NHS.