University of Essex and Stowmarket-based based Orbital Media to work on ‘virtual GP project

The applicaiton of artificial intelligence could help reduce the burden on the NHS by providing onli

The applicaiton of artificial intelligence could help reduce the burden on the NHS by providing online advice on the treatment of common minor ailments. - Credit: Archant

The University of Essex and Suffolk-based digital specialist Orbital Media have teamed up for a project which it is said could save the NHS millions a pounds a year.

Under a partnership with Innovate UK, the project aims to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning technology to provide medically-approved health advice online. The technology developed via the partnership will be used to serve interactive advice via groundbreaking photo-realistic avatars – effectively creating a virtual GP service.

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 £2bn per year².

Due to its public importance and potential impact, the 30-month project will be part-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Innovate UK.

Taking place through the university’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) initiative, the project will be managed by computer scientist who will be based at Orbital Media in Stowmarket and work closely with the academic team.


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Orbital Media chief executive 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 1%, the potential saving to the NHS would be approximately £20m per annum.

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“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 foreforont 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 work with Orbital Media to see how we can share our expertise to have a significant impact on how health services might be delivered in the future.”

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