The NHS provides British researchers with an enormous repository of healthcare data. The national public health provider collects, processes, and publishes data and information from across the country’s health and social care system. Researchers turn to this information to help them with everything from physician research to university theses to media reports. However, with a massive volume of information (including for example 287 reports published by NHS Digital last year alone), researchers usually need to navigate through multiple webpages and/or complex keyword searches to find what they need.

In order to simplify the information retrieval process for researchers, NHS Digital (the NHS Arm’s Length Body responsible for data) has partnered with IPsoft to build a virtual data digital colleague. Built on the Amelia platform, and rebranded as NHS Digital’s Virtual Data Assistant (ViDA), the cognitive system is available from now until Oct. 18 to assist various audiences, which in the past year have viewed NHS data more than 2 million times and downloaded more than 1 million records. As a conversational platform, ViDA answers questions about data and information, and is available as a resource to translate clinical and colloquial terms for researchers unfamiliar with medical terminology.

ViDA also answers questions regarding the Data Access Request Service (DARS), which allows researchers to request access to unpublished information. The application process is lengthy, includes a fee and requires strict security protocols. ViDA guides users through their questions about the process, and directs users to videos and written content.

What Users Can Expect

In its first week on the job, ViDA handled 150 chats, recording very high scores for performance and context understanding. Given that initial success, ViDA is expected to handle hundreds of chats during the length of the pilot. Amelia, or ViDA in this case, is built to work in collaboration with humans to help them find the information they need.

ViDA is capable of understanding emotions like anger, frustration and sadness – which is a critical consideration when dealing with large request volumes from various audiences. And it is smart enough to know when a task is outside of its purview, at which point ViDA will direct researchers to a human colleague for help. All of this adds up to a more human experience, one that researchers (we believe) will prefer over lengthy keyword queries. ViDA is not designed to advise on medical issues or to provide medical advice, and does not collect any information. Users are encouraged to download a copy of their conversation transcript from each interaction with ViDA by clicking on a download tab on the tool.

ViDA is just one example of how cognitive technologies such as Amelia can be used throughout healthcare systems. As the program progresses, NHS Digital is requesting user feedback. If you access ViDA, be sure to record yours by emailing NHS at [email protected].

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