They’re already being widely used by retailers, but chatbots will soon become tools for the UK’s National Health Service.
According to a report from the Financial Times, from the end of January, the NHS will be trialling a new app created by a startup called Babylon which will ask people questions about their illness symptoms before advising them whether or not they need to contact a health professional.
The service is purely for triage rather than any kind of diagnosis service, and it’s intended to replace the 111 non-emergency phone line the NHS currently uses.
Your smartphone will see you now
The phone helpline which is staffed by trained operators who aren’t medically qualified is an important service but it’s expensive to run and phonecalls can take a long time or be abandoned completely.
By using chatbots, the NHS could save money, avoid unnecessary GP appointments, and provide patients with the fast accurate advice they need.
To access the chatbot, users will simply have to open the app where they'll be asked multiple choice questions about their symptoms. Rather than extended phonecalls, patients can expect to be told what steps they should take next in an average time of a minute and a half.
Babylon’s trial will last for six months and the app will initially be available to select health authorities in north central London, where approximately 1.2 million people live.