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Arthritis Research UK delivers reliable virtual assistant on IBM Cloud

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Arthritis Research UK chatbotAround 10 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from arthritis, a painful condition that causes joint inflammation.

People living with arthritis often have questions about their condition and how to manage it. Common questions include things like: Will exercise soothe the affected joints? What are the best ways to relieve pain? What can I do to reduce inflammation?

People who seek medical advice often have to wait days or weeks for a doctor’s appointment. Consultations are brief, giving clinicians little opportunity to discuss the condition in detail. If patients search for answers on the web, they are often bombarded with conflicting information, causing confusion and anxiety.

Stepping into action

Arthritis Research UK has traditionally focused on arthritis treatment research, but we recently began channeling energy and resources to also support people living with the condition.

As a first step, we set up a 12-hour-per-day telephone helpline to offer one-on-one support. But we wanted to do more. We were eager to serve a greater number of people and provide reliable information around the clock, but remained limited by personnel capacity.

Building a fresh solution for a widespread problem

To transcend those issues, Arthritis Research UK worked with IBM to build a chatbot to serve people with arthritis. Chatbot users simply type in their questions and the virtual assistant directs them to relevant and reliable information and resources. To provide the sharp accuracy we wanted, we turned to IBM Watson Assistant delivered through IBM Cloud. The advice we provide incorporates contributions from healthcare professionals, as well as people who suffer from the condition.

IBM worked closely with us to develop the virtual assistant, which is now live and operating in beta mode while we continue to add our knowledge and content into Watson. IBM consultants educated us about the AI technology while our subject-matter experts helped them better understand arthritis and the resources we provide. The innovative initiative presented a steep learning curve; but, thanks to the fruitful collaboration and valuable input from both parties, we successfully built a chatbot that provides real benefit to people living with arthritis.

Every day, around 100 people converse with the virtual assistant, typically asking about medication, symptoms and pain relief. Users can rate their interactions with the chatbot, and the solution automatically uses the feedback to refine its algorithms to deliver better-targeted results.

By building and delivering the solution on the cloud, we achieved a rapid time to market, developing a live beta product in a matter of months. We can now run the solution whilst incorporating user feedback into its ongoing development. In addition, the cloud delivery method helps us to assist huge numbers of people in an efficient, scalable manner.

Delivering high-quality arthritis support at scale

The new chatbot enables us to deliver high-quality support to people living with arthritis. Further, the online resource is available any time of the day and offers instant, professionally-backed information, validated by Arthritis Research UK, so patients will not need to resort to unaccredited sites.

Additionally, the initiative helps to position Arthritis Research UK as a leader in developing innovative ways to support people living with arthritis.

To date, Arthritis Research UK has implemented around 15 percent of its content into the chatbot, and it plans to extend the virtual assistant to cover a broader range of topics in the future.

Read the case study for more details.

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