UK hospital patients can soon ask virtual chatbot if they should go to the ER

University Hospitals Birmingham, a U.K. National Health Service hospital, is rolling out automated and live online chat services for individuals to consult with to reduce accident and emergency department admissions, The Guardian reports.

The UHB NHS Foundation Trust, which operates UHB, will roll out the new technology at four acute care hospitals in Birmingham. The trust's goal with the services is to relieve pressure on the EDs by decreasing avoidable attendances, or patients with minor ailments.  

In addition to the chatbot services, University Hospitals Birmingham is also providing access to online symptom checkers and video consultations with physicians and nurses. People thinking about visiting the hospital's ED are encouraged to take the two-minute online check. The artificial intelligence-powered symptoms checkers will then advise whether the individual should seek treatment, according to the report.

Patients will also be able to use their smartphone to talk to a provider and undergo a consultation, which will eliminate the need to physically go to the hospital. Patients who opt to use the new technology services can potentially be advised they do not need medical attention and avoid long waits in the ED, or be advised to see a general practitioner or pharmacist instead, UHB NHS Foundation Trust CEO David Rosser, MD, told the Guardian.

"We think that we can get 70 [percent] of our 2 million outpatient appointments on to this way of doing things within two to three years," Dr. Rosser said.

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