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9 April, 2017 - 01:30 By Kate Sweeney

Virtual doctors could save NHS £millions

NHS GP Orbital Media

Automated online GPs could revolutionise the way patients are treated – saving the NHS millions of pounds a year.

Suffolk-based digital and social specialist Orbital Media and the University of Essex are joining forces to use artificial intelligence to advance the technology.

In partnership with Innovate UK, the £250k investment project will exploit AI and machine learning technology to provide medically approved health advice to the increasing numbers of users who seek medical information online.

The technology will be used to serve interactive advice via groundbreaking, photo realistic avatars. Information supplied by the platform will focus on minor ailments such as colds, coughs, flu and hay fever.

These self-treatable conditions currently account for a significant proportion of GP time and are identified by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) as one of the five examples of wastage in the NHS system, amounting to a cost of £2 billion per year. The resulting technological solution will provide a visual, reliable and robust online health advice service, to meet the rapidly growing demand for online ‘symptom searches’.

The 30 month project will be part-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, The Economic and Social Research Council and Innovate UK.

Taking place through the University of Essex’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership initiative, the project will be managed by a carefully recruited computer scientist (known as the KTP Associate) based at Orbital Media full-time and working closely with the academic team at Essex.

Orbital Media CEO, Peter Brady, said: “GPs are currently under immense pressure, with significant amounts of money devoted to dealing with minor ailments. This comes at a time when the NHS is required to find £22bn of efficiency savings by 2020. The potential for AI technologies to help relieve pressure from the heavily burdened primary care system is significant.

“Even if we can reduce the cost spent on minor ailments by as little as one per cent, the potential saving to the NHS would be approximately £20 million per annum.

“AI has a key role to play in supporting future healthcare needs and this is just the beginning of our exploration into its potential applications within healthcare pathways. It’s hugely exciting for Orbital Media to be at the forefront of this cutting edge technology, which could produce genuinely revolutionary improvements for our healthcare system”

Dr Luca Citi from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex added: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning technology have the potential to transform so many aspects of our everyday lives. We are excited about this opportunity to share expertise with Orbital Media and have a significant impact on how health services might be delivered in the future.”

Kiss Communications

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