Recently, a diverse group of clinicians, designers, developers and programmers met up for a weekend to hack the NHS. This fully supported project was a chance for people to use NHS data and its technology alongside new technology and systems as a way to come up with prototypes that may help the NHS.
The NHS Hack Day used only publicly available data, so no private and confidential information was shared and only open source tools were available . Throughout the weekend, the group created a range of demo products to show what can be achieved using open data.
One demo was a voice technology system like an Amazon Alexa that can help users to find out key NHS information such as the waiting times at the nearest A&E department. Information about parking at hospitals, rating scores and systems for the hospital was also made available.
An NHS Voice Assistant.
Through feedback from Twitter, the NHS Hack Day began to uncover the needs and abilities of what a voice technology system can do, alongside any problems that people may face.
For example, it is quite difficult to determine the waiting times at A&E as it depends on the symptoms the patient has. A person suffering from a heart attack will be seen much more quickly than a suspected fracture. The hack team looked at the question from a different angle by asking ‘how many people are currently waiting in A&E?’. This type of question gives a quantifiable waiting period.
Other feedback suggested that a voice assistant could possible become a complicated system. NHS hospitals with the same name can cause confusion . A lack of data also poses a problem, like the number of car parking spaces currently available, which can mean a voice assistant isn’t particularly helpful in such cases.
The researchers found that while users may be asking a voice assistant a simple question, this can quickly manifest into a long conversation with no simple answer. As a result, the voice assistant may not be so user-friendly and the information may be better obtained elsewhere.
For a voice assistant to be useful for NHS users, it is essential for data to be made public so that users can get the information they are looking for. Currently, many NHS providers do not share data, and sometimes need different access requirements for specific data sets. This poses a problem and will need to be addressed if a voice assistant system were to function properly.
The NHS Hack Day was a great learning experience and events like these can help the NHS deliver better service delivery going forward.