Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has introduced a new virtual assistant to field questions about a proposed new £344m eye care facility.

Due to begin construction in 2022, the purpose-built Oriel facility, will provide an integrated eye care, research and education base.

Once opened to patients, all services from Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology will be relocated to the new site at St Pancras Hospital.

Moorfields Eye Hospital has introduced a chatbot-style virtual assistant to provide information on the proposal and gather feedback.

Developed using IBM Watson Assistant, Oriel Assistant is able to answer questions and allows patients, staff and the general public to have their say on the plans.

Answers gathered by the assistant will be fed into a broader consultation, which closes on 16 September 2019.

David Probert, chief executive for Moorfields Eye Hospital, said: “This is an exciting step forward towards delivering the modern, efficient and effective care our patients deserve.

“Central to this is our proposal to move our hospital to a new purpose-built centre where we would be able to transform lives, turn research into new treatments faster and share our knowledge and understanding with the clinicians of tomorrow.

“But innovation is not just limited to our clinical environment; it is also about how we connect with our patients. That is why we have developed the Oriel Assistant, to provide round-the-clock answers to questions and information about how the proposal could affect our patients, staff and the wider public.”

Hosted on the IBM Cloud, users can interact directly with the chatbot via a dedicated landing page on the Oriel website.

Beyond its initial use, Moorfields plans to explore how chatbots and AI-based technology can be used to support patients elsewhere.

A spokesperson told Digital Health News that the trust hoped to develop a chatbot capable general questions about Moorfields’ services, such as “how can I change my appointment?” and “what is glaucoma?”, for example.

In the long term, it may be able to give information about what to do if experiencing certain symptoms, with an aim to integrate this with other systems.

The technology could also be used to improve access to services for patients with impaired vision.

Oriel, announced in December 2018, is a partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital, the UCL Institute of Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Charity.

Funding for the new facility will come from the sale of the City Road site, donors to Moorfields Eye Charity, central government funding and from Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust itself.

It is hoped the new site will be open to patients by 2025/26.