NHS Digital developing ‘avatar’ to answer data queries, UK e-Health week told

NHS Digital is developing an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot or ‘cognitive avatar’ as a tool to facilitate quicker and more efficient access to its data.
By Nick Renaud-Komiya
10:12 AM
NHS Digital Director of Data Daniel Ray

[London, UK] NHS Digital Director of Data Daniel Ray has outlined the work being done to better facilitate access to nationally-held data sets by researchers, patients and healthcare professionals with the help of machine learning tools.

Speaking at UK e-health Week on Tuesday, Ray explained that one initiative in development is ‘Amelia’, a human-like online AI tool which can respond to questions from users searching for data, such as waiting times for MRI scans in a given area of the country.

Ray said: “We are building an avatar and doing some discovery work with a company called IPsoft whereby you will be able to have a conversation with the lovely Amelia around what data you want to access.”

While Ray emphasised that this work is in early stages, he said that the project was one initiative that NHS Digital was looking at to speed up the processing of requests for access to data from third parties.

Ray said: “The number of applications that we handed out [for data access] in 2017 was double that  the year before. Going forward that's not sustainable. So how can we use technology to facilitate an answer to people's questions?”

It was also disclosed that the agency is streamlining the process for applying to access certain types of data in order to make it easier and quicker for those who have successfully applied to access data previously and have a 'clean audit' to do so again.

Ray commented: “Not all applications for data in the future will go through the same pattern. If you have had data and you have a clean audit and you want to just renew, you won't have to go through the same process, longer process as if you were doing something new, novel or contentious.

“If it is just a repeat of what you've already got [it will be a] slicker faster stream in terms of accessing data.”

More regional news

CMS Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. Donald Rucker

Is synthetic data the key to healthcare clinical and business intelligence?

The open source synthetic data source, Synthea. (Diagram courtesy of The MITRE Corporation.)