Service deliveryAdult Social CareNHS trials virtual health assistant app to encourage self-care

NHS trials virtual health assistant app to encourage self-care

Ask NHS app uses Odyssey clinical decision support technology to relieve pressure on 111, urgent care services and primary care

NHS services across the West Midlands have announced the results of a trial of a ‘virtual health assistant’ that empowers patients across the region to self-assess in preference to contacting a health service.

The news follows Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s pledge for every patient in England to be able to access their medical records and book an appointment with a GP via an app by the end of 2018.

West Midlands Integrated Urgent Care Alliance1 has been testing a medical assistant app created by Sensely and Advanced. The app, Ask NHS, uses an evidence driven system based on statistical analysis to guide self-assessment of acute symptoms, the provision of self-care advice, and triage to the most appropriate services, all of which help to reduce the burden on overstretched NHS workers. It launched in April 2017, and is now available to more than 4.5 million people living in the West Midlands to:

  • Check symptoms via the app’s symptom checker, delivered by voice through the app’s interactive virtual health assistant, or via the app’s text mode chatbot
  • Book GP appointments, where available. Patients are given a choice of available appointment times and can book or cancel appointments directly from the app
  • Find local NHS services using the NHS Directory of Service (DoS)
  • Access trusted self-care health and wellness advice by NHS Choices.

The app has delivered positive results. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the completed ‘Ask NHS’ symptom checker outcomes led to a recommendation to contact 111, 14% to schedule a GP appointment, 12% to follow self-care advice, and 12% to call 999.

The cost per digital self-care transaction is a fraction of that of traditional 111 telephony services. In addition, Ask NHS’s ability to collect patient symptom information and then transfer this information to third party 111 providers allows 111 providers to avoid the time-consuming function of asking a series of detailed questions over the phone. In short, Ask NHS is delivering high value advice with a lower burden to the system.

Rachael Ellis, Chief Officer at Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG and lead on Integrated Urgent Care in the West Midlands region, commented: “The Ask NHS app provides patients with on-demand access to NHS services 24/7. We want to make it as easy as possible for patients to obtain medical advice in the way that best suits them. For some, using the app is the most convenient. Patient safety and quality are, of course, our top priorities, but offering patient choice is also important and we believe the app helps us do that.”

Ask NHS provides full technical integration with the NHS111 Clinical Assessment Service, the Directory of Services, EMIS and NHS Choices, as well as being NHS Spine compliant. It uses Sensely’s Learning Engine and Advanced’s Clinical Decision Support (CDS) technology Odyssey, the backbone of the app’s symptom checker feature. It complies fully with the clinical safety regulations for software manufacture SCCI 0129.

Odyssey is NICE accredited, has over 30 million assessments up-to-date without any case of serious error or litigation. Its unique approach covers the full range of acute clinical presentations across the entire lifespan, with the ability to assess multiple symptoms simultaneously, reducing the chance of clinical risk and ensuring users are accurately signposted towards their correct care pathway.

“The NHS is under increasing pressure with reduced budgets and spiralling demand,” commented Nick Wilson, Managing Director – Public Sector, Health & Care – Advanced. “Our trial shows that a combination of artificial intelligence and our clinical decision support technology can help deliver a better patient outcome and drive efficiencies. Odyssey has been helping the NHS assess patients safely for many years. Now, we have an app that allows patients in the West Midlands to assess themselves prior to calling 111. It’s simple – less trips to a GP or A&E saving the NHS valuable time and freeing up resources.

“Around 13 million people in the UK ring 111 each year. If we could expand the app across other regions, the cost and time savings really would be significant. And Jeremy Hunt’s ambitious plan for the entire NHS to join the digital age in 2018 would be a reality.”

Dr Ivana Schnur, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Sensely, said: “The trial results are the outcome of a positive and ongoing collaboration between Sensely, Advanced and the NHS. The mobile app allows patients to access clinically validated health guidance and information, and provides them with a safe and effective digital access point to the NHS. The result is that patients are guided to the right NHS resource, at the right time, leading to an improved patient experience.”

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