Creating a Voice Application prototype to help fight COVID-19

FX Digital has built a prototype Voice App in an effort to help ease the burden on NHS 111 phone lines and help users access important medical advice. We're now seeking endorsement from the NHS so that we can launch it on Alexa and Google Assistant...
by Ramsey Marwan, 2nd April 2020
Covid 19 NHS 111 Voice Application

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone in the UK and worldwide. The FX Digital team wanted to use their Voice technology expertise to contribute to British society’s collective effort battling the spread of Coronavirus. The NHS 111 service is overwhelmed with the number of callers in the wake of Coronavirus and is directing users to utilise the 111 website. With Smart Speakers in at least 1 in every 5 UK homes, the team decided that building this Voice App could be a small contribution to combat COVID-19 in this challenging time.

As Voice is a hands-free solution, a Voice App of this kind could potentially help the elderly and vulnerable members of society access important advice if they suspect they have the symptoms of Coronavirus. Further, it can ease the strain on a service struggling to manage soaring demand. 

Understanding how the Voice App Works

 

To build the Voice experience, we utilised the Q & A format and content from the NHS’s 111 “Get help if you’re worried about coronavirus” website. Below we will explain the key features of the skill. Please note, as this app is still only a prototype, we do not recommend using the experience for medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please contact the NHS through the appropriate channel.

Instructions

When the user first interacts with the Voice App, we provide a brief explanation to encourage users to give yes or no answers. This helps prevent ambiguity and ensures a smooth user experience.

Date Selection

When users confirm the date that they started to experience symptoms, they can provide this information in a multitude of formats. Here are just three different ways a user could respond – “the 21st March 2020”, “last Tuesday” and “two weeks ago”. To account for these various responses, we have leveraged the Amazon’s machine learning model that gives the user the greatest flexibility when providing different date formats.

Validation

When asking specific questions about the user – such as their age – we have to provide a form of validation to ensure the skill hears them correctly. Here we ask a follow up question to confirm their age. This is different to designing for web, where you can see the input you have selected or typed.

Error handling

When the app mishears the user or they say something unexpected, we have to ensure there is a response that can guide the user back into the conversation. In this example, the Voice assistant apologises for mishearing, repeats the question and gives clear instructions on how to answer the question.

Future Features

Currently the NHS 111 Website directs users to call 999 if they have certain symptoms. A feature the FX Digital team is exploring is the ability to direct the user straight through to the emergency services through Alexa/Google Assistant, saving them having to dial 999 on their phone. 

Next Steps

To get this skill certified as an Amazon Alexa Skill or Google Action, FX Digital requires the approval of the NHS. FX Digital has built this Voice experience at their own cost and is not seeking to deploy the skill for financial gain. We hope that this Voice experience can be published and help the NHS and the wider public. However, if it cannot be certified, we hope that this Voice experience inspires others to dedicate resources to projects that can help in anyway in managing Coronavirus and the disruption it is causing across the country and beyond.