QLD Health enlists AI for social messaging to assist with Covid-19 query spike

Facebook Queensland Health Chatbot

To cope with a “100-fold increase” in questions from Queenslanders during the pandemic emergency, Queensland Health has revealed it built an AI chatbot with a local tech developer that has, to date, answered nearly one million private messages.

Deployed on 27 March last year – just weeks after the state’s first confirmed Covid-19 case – the AI chatbot was integrated into the Department’s Facebook page, with instant message replies automated round-the-clock.

Implementation of the AI chatbot has seen a 90 per cent reduction in staff intervention, according to Queensland Health.

To date, the state health agency, via the bot, has received more than 960,942 social media comments and seen over 826,000 Facebook private messages exchanged; the agency has also fielded 20,094 media calls and email enquiries, as well as 9,476 web enquiries.

Between January and April 2020 (when the pandemic first hit), the agency saw social media engagement soar by 450 per cent – almost four million comments, reactions, clicks and shares were recorded, while over 10,000 private messages were exchanged in a single month.

“Queenslanders wanted timely, engaging information from a source they trusted,” said Robert Hoge, executive director, strategic communications branch at Queensland Health.

Speaking with FST Media, creative, social and digital media manager Elise Meakin revealed that Queensland Health is working with Melbourne-based technology up-start inGenious AI to host, build, and update its chatbot.

inGenious AI is a cloud-based content management system for chatbots, with a complementary ‘Improvement AI’ platform that enables content creators to review and manage natural language processing-based (NLP) chatbot performance (for instance, add additional content or update training phrases).

According to Meakin, one of the chatbot’s most successful features was its Covid-19 testing clinic function, which helps users in locating nearby clinics.

“This tool has been critical in getting more Queenslanders tested. By creating this simple tool and promoting it via Facebook we saw a direct real-world impact in the form of increased testing numbers at the clinics most viewed in our locator tool,” she said.

Meakin further revealed that, to date, more than 64,000 people have used the chatbot to source Covid-19 information, while 20,000 have subscribed to receive health alert notifications, of which a hundred have been issued to date.

“Additionally, our users love interacting with the chatbot, with almost 70 per cent of those surveyed saying they find it useful,” she said.

In a statement, Queensland Health said it was Australia’s first health agency to employ a Facebook chatbot for pandemic-related community queries.

Apart from this AI tool, Queensland Health last year, in response to the Covid-19 emergency, also expanded its telehealth services network, enabling more doctor-patient interactions to take place remotely.

An overview of the chatbot’s functionalities can be found here.