News | Tech for good

Artificial intelligence health assistant to help half a million with chronic health conditions

In an unprecedented partnership, we and four UK health charities are coming together to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) for good – creating the UK’s first AI coaching tool of its kind to support long term health conditions.

By Reason Digital · October 23, 2019

Our team here at Reason is teaming up with Parkinson’s UK, the Stroke AssociationMuscular Dystrophy UK and the MS Society to develop the project, which is set to transform the way medical advice and information is delivered to almost half-a-million* people in the UK.

The Digital Health Assistant (DHA) will use machine learning to develop an understanding of the person being supported and continues to adapt to their needs over time based on interactions. This allows DHA to provide emailed content and support specific to the individual’s needs, making it more effective than current alternatives.

The tool has been designed to tackle common issues pervading chronic conditions in the UK, including the lack of tailored and up to date information available for people who’ve recently been diagnosed, and staff shortages. The four charities involved expect it to dramatically improve the quality of practical and emotional care on offer to individuals following a diagnosis and, longer-term, support them in successfully managing their condition.

The DHA learns from a combination of the best support workers in the UK and the experiences of thousands of healthcare professionals. Bespoke, targeted support can include things about medication and diet, appointments and updates, managing work, or adjusting to new symptoms, depending on what the tool learns about the person.

We spoke to Alison Butt, 52, a health visitor living with Parkinson’s who tested the assistant.

I have been living with the condition for the last year after noticing a tremor in my right hand. Following diagnosis by a neurologist I was given a hefty folder of information which was overwhelming. I refused to Google my condition and instead found the Parkinson’s UK website very helpful. I joined a local support group and spoke to my friend who also has the same condition.

Alison Butt

Alison continues, telling us how coming to terms with her condition is an ongoing process…

“The DHA trial was a real eye-opener, I liked the idea of receiving weekly bite-sized tips and this influenced me to find new ways to slow the condition down. I discovered specially designed exercises for those with Parkinson’s such as PD Warrior, which helps improve functionality and prolong quality of life. The weekly classes I attend are motivating, run by neuro physios and help correct posture and strengthen your core.”

Richard Nash, 54, is a physiotherapist living with Parkinson’s who trialled the system. He echoed Alison’s sentiments of an ongoing process, and his distrust when it comes to Googling his condition.

“The main challenge I’ve encountered since diagnosis is a psychological one, as I’m concerned about keeping my job and thinking about the future. It’s been hard coming to terms with how things will be. I found researching Parkinson’s online hard as there’s no filter and some sites are untrustworthy. DHA is a real breakthrough as it’s convenient, can be accessed at home, is official and guides you every step of the way.”

When it’s developed, DHA will be a reliable and relevant portal that’s efficient and accessible. It will act as a gatekeeper that can be accessed at any time, so users won’t have to spend hours researching from unofficial sources online.

Richard Nash

We found that to be a recurring theme in our research. Diagnosis of a serious health condition such as Parkinson’s, Muscular Dystrophy or multiple sclerosis, or experiencing a stroke, naturally generates an abundance of questions for the person receiving the news.

Online research so often results in unanswered questions and out of date, generic information which just adds to the stress and anxiety of an individual’s situation. What people want is curated information and updates from a trusted source.

Ed Holloway, director of services and support for the MS Society, commented:

“What’s incredible about this project is that it’s four charities coming together to achieve in partnership something we couldn’t alone. It’s not just our communities who will benefit, more than 100,000 people live with MS in the UK but down the line this tool could help millions more living with chronic conditions.”

Our co-founder Matt Haworth explains our use of AI for good…

“Understandably there’s a lot of fear around the implications of AI for society. The reality is that whether it empowers us or oppresses us simply depends on who’s using it. That’s why with DHA, we’re putting the power of AI in the hands of people who need support for their long-term health conditions.”

We’ll continue to update our progress in development alongside these four brilliant charities, as well as the impact it’s set to have on those living with chronic conditions.