Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

South Australia Health introduces bot to answer COVID-19 queries

It was designed to help reduce pressure on hospital switchboards and the triple zero line.

clevertar-sa-health-website-1.jpg

Image: Clevertar

The South Australian government has rolled out a chatbot, nicknamed Zoe, to help answer COVID-19 queries.

The virtual agent, developed by Adelaide-based tech firm Clevertar, has initially been designed to provide users with answers and relevant links to further information. Currently, it's able to answer a set of pre-defined questions.

"Zoe was specifically implemented in response to COVID-19 to help reduce the extra pressure on South Australia's hospital switchboards and the 000 line, which experienced a surge in demand as a result of COVID-19 enquiries," a SA Health spokesperson told ZDNet.

"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 decision to roll out Zoe, according to a SA Health spokesperson, was initiated by SA Health chief executive Dr Chris McGown who was "aware of the product and was interested in trialling it".

"COVID-19 presented a unique business need requiring rapid response and deployment, fitting with the product's capabilities," the spokesperson said.

Clevertar said the next phase of development for Zoe would be to ensure the bot can answer more complex questions.

As to whether SA Health plans to keep Zoe switched on post-pandemic, the SA Health spokesperson said: "The efficacy of Zoe will be evaluated after an initial trial period. The extended use will be subject to evolving COVID response requirements in South Australia, and business case approval".

At the end of last month, with the help from Atlassian and Facebook, the federal government implemented a WhatsApp bot to help people keep up to date with messaging coming out of Canberra on the COVID-19 outbreak.

To interact with it, people have to message the Australian government account on +61 400 253 787. A list of prompts is then returned to the user to access official information about the virus.

It followed in the footsteps of the World Health Organization (WHO), which also launched its own WhatsApp chatbot.

The service can be accessed by a link that opens a conversation on WhatsApp. Users can simply type "hi", "hola", "salut" or "مرحبا" to activate the conversation, prompting a menu of options that can be used to help answer their questions about COVID-19.  

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