Artificial intelligence to help create automated virtual GPs

  • Date

    Thu 23 Mar 17

Orbital Media, digital and social specialists, and the University of Essex have announced they are joining forces to use artificial intelligence to save the NHS millions of pounds per year by creating automated online GPs to revolutionise the way patients are treated.

In partnership with Innovate UK, the £250,000 investment project will exploit Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology to provide medically approved health advice to the increasing numbers of users who seek medical information online.

The technology developed, via the partnership, will be used to serve interactive advice via groundbreaking, photo realistic avatars. Information supplied by the platform will focus on minor ailments such as colds, coughs, flu and hay fever.

These self-treatable conditions currently account for a significant proportion of GP time and are identified by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) as one of the five examples of wastage in the NHS system, amounting to a cost of £2 billion per year.

The resulting technological solution will provide a visual, reliable and robust online health advice service, to meet the rapidly growing demand for online ‘symptom searches’.

Due to its public importance and potential impact, the 30 month project will be part-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Innovate UK.

Taking place through the University of Essex’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) initiative – a world-leading programme that helps businesses innovate by connecting them to the UK's wealth of academic resources - the project will be managed by a carefully recruited Computer Scientist - known as the KTP Associate - who will base themselves at Orbital Media full-time and work closely with the academic team at Essex.

Orbital Media CEO, Peter Brady, commented on the importance of this innovation to the NHS: "GPs are currently under immense pressure, with significant amounts of money devoted to dealing with minor ailments. This comes at a time when the NHS is required to find £22 billion of efficiency savings by 2020³. The potential for AI technologies to help relieve pressure from the heavily burdened primary care system is significant. Even if we can reduce the cost spent on minor ailments by as little as 1%, the potential saving to the NHS would be approximately £20 million per annum.

"AI has a key role to play in supporting future healthcare needs and this is just the beginning of our exploration into its potential applications within healthcare pathways. It’s hugely exciting for Orbital Media to be at the foreforont of this cutting edge technology, which could produce genuinely revolutionary improvements for our healthcare system."

Dr Luca Citi from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex added: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning technology have the potential to transform so many aspects of our everyday lives.

"We are excited about this opportunity to work with Orbital Media to see how we can share our expertise to have a significant impact on how health services might be delivered in the future."

For further information on the innovation plan please contact Peter Brady at Orbital Media on

For further information on the KTP please contact Rob Walker: