IBM and Arthritis Research UK team up on support service

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IBM and Arthritis Research UK have developed a chatbot that can be used to help people find answers to their problems and get support when they need it most.

The virtual assistant makes use of IBM's Watson technology to offer personalised information from the Arthritis Research UK website, presenting it in a way that's natural to the user.

It taps into the Watson Conversation API, which offers natural conversation at any time of the day or night. Because it's available via the Arthritis UK website and on mobile, users can ask a question whenever it comes up, without having to wait for human support staff to be online.

However, it will be supported by humans, so if a patient has a more complicated question or needs the personal touch, they can be diverted to the charity's call centre.

“We know that there are millions of people in the UK living with arthritis whose lives are severely limited as they struggle with unanswered questions. We want to ensure that everyone has access to information and support, whenever and wherever they need it," Liam O'Toole, chief executive officer at Arthritis Research UK, said.

“We’re really excited to be working with IBM Watson on this innovative new service that will enable us to have conversations with anyone seeking help, that we simply wouldn’t be able to answer so quickly otherwise. We’re confident that this new virtual assistant will help more people push back the ways arthritis limits their lives.”

Although IBM was on hand to provide its technology, Arthritis Research UK developed the Watson-powered digital personal assistant themselves, demonstrating the flexibility of Watson.

“Further, Arthritis Research UK’s use of Watson APIs is a model for organisations thinking about how they might integrate cognitive computing into their services in order to positively impact the lives of people living with a serious health condition," Cameron Brooks, IBM European director for Watson in the public sector added.

Arthritis UK's chatbot was developed in five months, combining existing resources and input from healthcare professionals, arthritis patients and IBM Watson cognitive computing experts. The service has been trialled by 300 people before it becomes generally available later this year.

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.