Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust is piloting Wysa, an AI-based chatbot, with patients on waiting lists for more conventional talking therapy
“Some people may find the anonymity of a chatbot reduces anxiety about starting therapy and we hope it will help people to start the work sooner and better prepare them for meeting with the therapist and making the best use of their therapy sessions.” Dr Lucy Wilson-Shaw, consultant clinical psychologist, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust
Patients in London who are on a waiting list for mental health therapy will have the opportunity to take part in a £1m trial to assess the effectiveness of an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot.
The chatbot, Wysa, is being piloted by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Patients on the waiting list for mental health support will be randomly selected to participate. Wysa will monitor their levels of anxiety and depression using app-based questionnaires.
Wysa uses natural language understanding to converse with patients and to offer advice based on clinically-reviewed cognitive behavioural techniques, with the responses tailored to meet the needs of each individual user. The chatbot has access to a library of resources to help patients manage their mental health, including cognitive behavioural techniques, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and motivational interviewing.
The trial will provide clinical evidence of the app’s ability either to improve patients’ symptoms, or at least prevent them from worsening, while they wait for traditional talking therapies. If they do effect an improvement, that could reduce the number of conventional sessions needed, minimise waiting time and improve the recovery rate.
Dr Lucy Wilson-Shaw, a consultant clinical psychologist at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’ve partnered with Wysa to test out if we can help more people faster and more effectively. We are always looking to find ways for people to be able to access the help they need as quickly as possible and to reduce any barriers and anxiety people feel about coming to a Talking Therapy service.
“Some people may find the anonymity of a chatbot reduces anxiety about starting therapy and we hope it will help people to start the work sooner and better prepare them for meeting with the therapist and making the best use of their therapy sessions.”
The trial also aims to discover whether Wysa can accurately detect when patients start to experience more severe mental health difficulties, and automatically identify those patients who need higher intensity or more urgent treatment.
Emma Selby, UK clinical lead at Wysa, said: “Our goal is to help people feel better. For some that involves streamlining the system so they can access the professional support they need, fast. But for others it’s about giving them the tools and techniques to build their own mental resilience at home, freeing up higher level support services for those who really need it.”
Last summer, Future Care Capital launched a report, The Mental Health Tech Review, which identified technologies that were available to support patients with mental health problems. Identifying the growth in AI apps for mental health, the review said that “current techniques struggle to provide either a creative approach to a problem or any flexibility in adapting between tasks.” It noted, however, that there was “great potential for the use of data within mental healthcare to better tailor care for a better personal outcome, for example by forecasting mood changes and providing advice and resources, accordingly, tracking emotional wellbeing and others.”