North Central London ICB and Islington GP Federation pilot AI and WhatsApp solution for appointment scheduling

NHS North Central London ICB and the Islington GP Federation are trialling an AI solution utilising WhatsApp for cervical cancer screening appointments, with the aim of increasing uptake in cervical cancer screening particularly amongst underserved populations.

The solution, developed by SPRYT, features an “AI receptionist” named Asa which is designed to interact with patients by offering answers to non-diagnostic questions, provide information on appointments, and send voice messages in a patient’s chosen language. Through use of the tool, patients will be able to book, reschedule and cancel appointments using WhatsApp “at any time, without requiring any new app or website”.

The ICB highlights that Asa has been developed with input from behavioural scientists and intercultural communications experts, combing generative AI and behavioural science to enable the tool to tailor its messaging to different patient groups.

Dr Bengi Beyzade, clinical lead for ENT & digital at Islington GP Federation, shares hopes that the pilot will help to improve access to cervical smear appointments, noting that the solution “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.”  

Dr Doris Dippold, senior lecturer in intercultural communications at the University of Surrey, adds: “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.” 

As well as offering potential benefits for patients in North Central London, the solution looks to “predict and reduce no-shows”, providing staff with “actionable insights” on patients who are considered likely to miss appointments, and automating scheduling tasks to help reduce organisational pressures.

Whilst Asa is initially being used in a single GP Federation, there are plans to roll out the pilot across the whole North Central London region.

In related news, the latest NHS England Cancer Programme progress update for Spring 2024 highlighted innovations and new technologies in areas of work across early diagnosis, treatment and personalised care, and performance.

And in AI, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle University and Roche Products Limited have announced a collaboration aiming to use artificial intelligence to support treatment for diabetic retinopathy, by exploring how AI could help identify biomarkers on 3D retina images.