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AI receptionists to be rolled out by the NHS to reduced missed appointments

The NHS will roll out artificial intelligence (AI) receptionists under new plans to reduce the number of missed hospital appointments and waiting lists

The NHS is set to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce the number of missed appointments and free up staff time to help bring down the waiting list for elective care.

The AI programme uses insights, including people’s jobs, childcare commitments, live traffic and weather updates to determine who is most unlikely to show up and maximise doctors’ time.

The appointments are then scheduled for the most convenient time for patients – for example, it will give evening and weekend slots to those less able to take time off during the day.

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Dr Vin Diwakar, national director for transformation at NHS England said: ‘The NHS has long been a pioneer of innovation. Not only can these technologies help to free up doctors’ time to treat more patients and reduce waiting times for planned care, it means a significant amount of money can be invested in frontline care rather than lost to missed appointments.’

The roll out of the new initiative follows a successful pilot in the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, leading to a 30% fall in non-attendances.

A total of 377 did not attends (DNAs) were prevented during the pilot period and an additional 1,910 patients were seen. It is estimated the trust, which supports a population of 1.2 million people, could save £27.5 million a year by continuing with the programme.

During the pilot, the Trust used AI to look at DNAs and ‘found a spike in last-minute cancellations after two SMS reminders had been sent,’ said Charlotte Williams, chief strategy and improvement officer at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust. ‘Through this work, they found messaging patients 14 days before an appointment and a follow-up four days before was most effective, as it meant they could cancel earlier and re-book the appointment in plenty of time.’

According to NHS England, with the level of missed appointments costing the NHS £1.2 billion annually, the AI programme, created by Deep Medical and co-designed by a frontline worker and NHS clinical fellow will reform elective and routine care.

Dr Diwakar said: ‘New AI initiatives rolled out in the NHS have seen DNAs reduce by about half a million a year, and with last week’s budget committing to an additional £3.4 billion of capital funding, the NHS can double investment in new technology and lead to hundreds of thousands of DNAs being avoided each month.’