Client Stories

Galvanising digital transformation at Ireland’s National Health Library & Knowledge Service

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Creating a new virtual assistant named LAMA

Supporting the needs of thousands of health service professionals with prompt access to critical medical information during the COVID-19 pandemic was the key driver for us to transform rapidly and implement our virtual assistant LAMA (Library Ask Me Anything) at the National Health Library & Knowledge Service (NHLKS).

NHLKS is a nationwide service to the Health Service Executive (HSE), the health and personal social services for everyone living in Ireland. The library service assists thousands of physicians, health professionals, medical researchers, and information specialists. We support our users to find health and scientific information to improve, update, assess, or evaluate healthcare practices.

As a result, healthcare users have access to a range of electronic resources, research databases, print and digital journal and book collections. We’ve introduced innovations in our library and knowledge services, such as librarians working as part of multidisciplinary teams, and have produced significant improvements in patient care. HSE librarians are key contributors to the national clinical guidelines.

In order to support the national response to COVID-19 with stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines, all our HSE Libraries were closed with staff redeployed. Nevertheless, we continued to provide remote services at reduced capacity and our dedicated research team focused their efforts on providing urgent evidence support requests related to COVID-19.

To compensate for the closure of the physical libraries at this highly critical time in healthcare, our NHLKS Digital team introduced a Virtual Desk Service. The Virtual Desk included a live chat function and replicated online many of the functions of a physical issue desk and enables all HSE staff to access library services remotely.

However, though servicing urgent evidence support requests was our priority, the team continued to receive a high volume of general access and end user ID queries. As a result, we created our virtual assistant – LAMA to respond to standard questions and directs to resources.

LAMA is based on IBM Watson Assistant and responds to common queries in English.

Questions it can answer include, “How do I reset my Athens password?” or “I’m looking for the latest research about telemedicine, can you help?” LAMA knows where to search for an answer from its knowledge base, and if does not have the answer it redirects the user to our Virtual Desk Service or email query.

Using this type of advanced technologies (chatbots or virtual agents) helps us to reduce the waiting times for general queries that healthcare users make to our Library services. It’s available 24 x7.

At this critical time for healthcare in Ireland, the creation of LAMA and the Virtual Desk Service has helped to galvanise our transformation strategy and accelerate our NHLKS digital plan. The LibBot had 7,757 conversations in the first 30 days which demonstrates the demand for online information.

This plan has a phased implementation process that includes the integration to a single national service our existing network of physical libraries; delivering enhanced librarian expertise in virtual teams; and equitable access to digital knowledge resources at the point-of-need across the whole health service.

With our virtual assistant LAMA, we are enabling the creation of a unified national knowledge service while playing a vital role in transforming the delivery of priority outcomes for health and care in Ireland.

Librarian, National Health Library & Knowledge Service, HSE Ireland.

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