Watson powers virtual assistant for arthritis sufferers

Arthritis Research UK taps cognitive computing to create innovative app

For the millions of people in the UK living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, finding an answer to questions about their condition can be a challenge. Because arthritis affects people in different ways, turning to the internet and sorting through pages of contrary advice can be overwhelming and confusing. British charity Arthritis Research UK’s website receives thousands of questions about arthritis symptoms, treatment options, and how it impacts the day-to-day life of arthritis sufferers.

Arthritis Research UK and IBM Watson are trying to solve that problem with the introduction of a web and mobile-based virtual personal assistant for people in the UK, where about 10 million people are living with the condition. Created with the Watson Conversation API, the app allows for quick, simple building of virtual agents, or chatbots, across mobile devices, messaging platforms, or even physical robots. The digital assistant draws information from the vast Arthritis Research UK library and specific input from the user to offer personalized, immediate advice on symptom management, treatment options, and any other questions they may have.

By tapping into IBM’s Watson Conversation API, the charity offers an innovative way for people with arthritis to quickly and easily get answers to questions — anytime, anywhere. For the first-time, Arthritis Research UK will be able to provide every person in the UK immediate access to the best and most accurate arthritis information, tailored to them. The charity will offer support via an information and inquiries line, where a team will be on hand to help answer detailed or complex questions.

“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,” stated Arthritis Research UK’s CEO Liam O’Toole . “We’re excited to be working with IBM Watson on this innovative new service that will enable us to have conversations with anyone seeking help, which 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.”

The tool took five months to develop, incorporating input from more than 350 people with arthritis to test and improve the tool, which will learn over time to develop more personalized feedback to users. Watson also used Arthritis Research UK’s eight decades of research and expertise, as well as advice from health care professionals and IBM cognitive computing experts.

The initial UK deployment will start out slowly, with users typing their inquiries into the site, and the virtual assistant providing general information about arthritis and exercises to alleviate symptoms, information that users can save online or print out. As use increases, the knowledge base will grow, enabling Arthritis Research UK to answer more questions, such as those around diet and treatment options.

Watson will learn from each interaction to refine the information retrieval tool for each user, and eventually leverage the Watson cognitive voice input and output features (as well as location services) to understand questions spoken to the virtual assistant. Considering the joint pain and limited dexterity in their hand’s many people with arthritis experience, it’s expected that the speech-to-text option will relieve them of the need to type and be a much-appreciated capability..

“Arthritis Research UK developed the Watson-powered digital personal assistant themselves, providing a terrific example of how IBM’s open, cloud-based Watson development platform is making cognitive computing broadly accessible to organizations and individuals worldwide,” said Cameron Brooks, IBM European Director for Watson in the Public Sector. “Further, Arthritis Research UK’s use of Watson APIs is a model for organizations thinking about how they might integrate cognitive computing into their services to positively impact the lives of people living with a serious health condition.”

For more information about Arthritis Research UK’s commitment to ensuring people with arthritis are in control of their condition and their goal to help make everyday life better for all people with arthritis in the UK visit: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/