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The Walton Centre pioneers new digital solution

New chatbot for headache patients could help increase clinician availability and cut waiting times

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A first-of-its-kind digital solution is being developed to help cut waiting lists for headache patients at The Walton Centre, the UK’s only NHS specialist neurological Trust. 

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust is transforming the experience for outpatient referrals to neurologists through the creation of a prototype new artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, which could transform the process of diagnosis and treatment. 

The specialist neurological Trust, in Liverpool, said headache patients make up the largest number of outpatient referrals, with a three-month average waiting time to be seen by a consultant. 

Now, through its partnership with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the development of the pioneering new digital solution could lead to reduced waiting times for patients and greater productivity for specialists. 

Dr Anita Krishnan, divisional clinical director for neurology at The Walton Centre, and a consultant neurologist specialising in headaches, said: “Technology is a huge part of medicine and it’s exciting to work with TCS to create a new artificial intelligence-based solution which will help our patients. 

“The chatbot system also has potential to be extended into other areas of medicine, which could benefit even more patients. 

“We are working closely with TCS and our other specialist partners to ensure the new solution is effective and safe and improves efficiency and patient outcomes.”

The chatbot will interact with patients being referred to a neurology or headache specialist and collect details of their condition and the symptoms through a structured set of questions. 

This will be used to compile a detailed medical history which clinicians can review before the first appointment with that patient and recommend a further course of action.

Depending on the clinician’s assessment, a patient may be put on a fast-track to be examined by a consultant or offered guidance on alleviating symptoms while they wait for their appointment. 

The chatbot will reduce the need for specialist consultants to spend their first appointment asking those questions. It will also provide useful information to the patient to help them prepare for and get the best out of their first appointment.

The solution, which will be developed as a prototype, will leverage cloud native, serverless technologies and conversational AI, to ensure clinical safety and effectiveness.

Shalini Mathur, TCS business unit head, public services for the UK, Europe & ANZ, said: “We are pleased to partner with The Walton Centre to transform patient care in the UK using next-gen technologies. 

“These technologies and solutions will help reduce waiting times for patients while improving the productivity of specialist consultants. This creates a blueprint for similar digital innovation in other clinical settings.”

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