IBM Watson offers free service to answer COVID-19 questions

The goal is to reduce wait times for requests to government agencies, healthcare organizations, and academic institutions around the world about the coronavirus.

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IBM has rolled out its Watson Assistant for Citizens free of charge for at least 90 days to help improve wait times for calls being made to government agencies, healthcare organizations, and academic institutions. So far, the technology is being used around the world, including entities in Arkansas, California, Georgia, New York, Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Spain, and the UK, the company said.

Due to high call volumes, people can wait longer than two hours to receive answers, IBM said. The feature is available at no charge for at least 90 days to IBM's clients' customers online or by phone.

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IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens on the IBM public cloud brings together Watson Assistant, natural language processing capabilities from IBM Research, and enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) search capabilities with Watson Discovery, to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19, IBM said.

"While helping government agencies and healthcare institutions use AI to get critical information out to their citizens remains a high priority right now, the current environment has made it clear that every business in every industry should find ways to digitally engage with their clients and employees," said Rob Thomas, general manager, IBM Data and AI.

The company is using years of experience helping thousands of global businesses and institutions use advanced AI technologies to better meet the demands of their constituents, and now applying it to the COVID-19 crisis, Thomas said. "AI has the power to be your assistant during this uncertain time."

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Watson Assistant for Citizens is utilizing available data from external sources, including guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and local sources such as links to school closings, news and documents on a state website, the company said. IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens at work 

Here are examples where IBM said it is engaging with government and healthcare agencies on Watson Assistant for Citizens:
 
ARKANSAS: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences--In nine days, deployed a virtual agent to answer questions quickly about testing, symptoms, or resources. Information is automatically sent to a mobile COVID-19 triage clinic to help speed response. Average registration time has been reduced by 50% for those using the agent.

IBM UAMS-Virtual-Assistant-for-COVID-19

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences deployed a virtual agent using Watson Assistant for Citizens in nine days so people can get their questions answered quickly about COVID-19 testing, symptoms or resources. 

Image: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

 
CALIFORNIA: City of Lancaster in Los Angeles County--Gives COVID-19 information on common questions such as symptoms and recommended procedures to follow in case of infection.
 
GEORGIA: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta--The "COVID-19 Pediatric Assessment Tool" walks parents through a series of questions and results in suggested next steps that a parent should take. Recommendations on next steps are made according to the healthcare system's established protocols.
 
NEW YORK: County of Otsego--COVID-19-related information will be available within the next few days to help people quickly get health and non-health-related questions answered regarding the pandemic. Otsego County's COVID-19 virtual agent will be able to answer questions like, "How do I apply for unemployment?"

TEXAS: City of Austin--COVID-19-related information will soon be available with interactive conversation on where to get testing and other information.
 
CZECH REPUBLIC: Czech Ministry of Health--COVID-19 virtual agent called "Anežka" gives advice about prevention, treatment, and other related topics on the coronavirus.
 
GREECE: Hellenic Ministry of Digital Governance--COVID-19-related information and interactive conversation on preventive and precautionary measures issued by the Greek government.
 
POLAND: Polish Ministry of Health--COVID-19 information on common questions, such as symptoms and recommended procedures to follow in case of infection.
 
SPAIN: Andalusian Government--A virtual agent to help respond to queries about COVID-19 is available through the app "Salud Responde" and the Public Agency for Health Emergencies (EPES) website, built also in collaboration with the Andalusian Health Service (SAS).
 
UK: National Health Service Wales: Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board--CERi, an English- and Welsh-speaking virtual assistant, will soon go live to support healthcare workers and the general public in Wales who need information or have questions on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, along with general information about the virus.

NEW YORK: County of Otsego--COVID-19-related information will be available within the next few days to help people quickly get health and non-health-related questions answered regarding the pandemic. Otsego County's COVID-19 virtual agent will be able to answer questions like, "How do I apply for unemployment?"

GEORGIA: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta--The "COVID-19 Pediatric Assessment Tool" walks parents through a series of questions and results in suggested next steps that a parent should take. Recommendations on next steps are made according to the healthcare system's established protocols.

CALIFORNIA: City of Lancaster in Los Angeles County--Gives COVID-19 information on common questions such as symptoms and recommended procedures to follow in case of infection.

ARKANSAS: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences--In nine days, deployed a virtual agent to answer questions quickly about testing, symptoms, or resources. Information is automatically sent to a mobile COVID-19 triage clinic to help speed response. Average registration time has been reduced by 50% for those using the agent.

How does IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens work?

 IBM's offer includes access to 15 pre-trained COVID-19 "intents" (purposes or goals that are expressed in a customer's input, such as answering a question) or queries. By recognizing the intent expressed in a customer's input, the Watson Assistant service can choose the correct dialog flow for responding to it, IBM said.
Clients can also work with IBM to customize the offering on top of the base model and intents to include information related specifically to a city or region for specific information that is pertinent to those constituents, as well as integrate with the client's back-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, the company said.

IBM said it is also working with global businesses in other industries to apply AI to help them respond to COVID-19 and reimagine the way work will get done in this new operating environment.

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