COVID-19 virtual agent launched by SA Health

Zoe will answer virus-related queries and take the pressure off emergency and hospital phonelines

A virtual agent going by the name of ‘Zoe’ has been launched by the South Australian health department in response to a surge in COVID-19-related queries to the state’s hospital switchboards and the 000 emergency line.

“COVID-19 presented a unique business need requiring rapid response and deployment, fitting with the product’s capabilities," a spokesperson told CMO. SA Health chief executive, Dr Chris McGowan, was aware of the product and interested in trialling it.

Available via www.sahealth.sa.gov.au, Zoe can answer a range of common COVID-19 questions and help users find the information they need through guided conversation.

“The primary objectives were to provide the public with an additional, reliable source of COVID-19 information, and ultimately allow our operational services to focus on delivering health and emergency services,” the spokesperson said.
 
The department said that between 8 April and 27 April 2020, 17,604 users made 76,359 interactions with Zoe, and 2675 users (15 per cent) completed a full question and answer dialogue path.

Created by virtual agent specialist, Clevertar, Zoe is able to work around-the-clock to answer questions and help South Australians follow official health guidelines.

“We are proud to be assisting SA Health to alleviate some of the pressures on the health system, allowing their vital staff to triage more complex enquiries and make sure everyone has access to accurate and timely information about COVID-19,” Clevertar CEO, Tanya Newhouse, said. 

While it was initially developed over just a few days, the company said it will now spend the coming weeks developing Zoe so she can answer a wider range of complex questions beyond the set of pre-defined and event provide links to additional information. 

"The next development phase is all about ensuring she has even greater capabilities and is able to answer more questions,” Newhouse said.  

The introduction of the virtual agent Zoe follows the creation of a COVID chatbot by Sydney University to answer student queries related to COVID-19. The ‘Corona-bot’, as it’s been dubbed, has been tackling hundreds of student inquiries every day. The bot provides the most appropriate answer to the question and, where necessary, directs the student to further information.

SA Health said the efficacy of Zoe for the department will be evaluated after an initial trial period.
Extended use will be subject to evolving COVID response requirements in South Australia, and business case approval.

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