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Ali, The Virtual Agent

A new virtual agent called Ali is here to help manage appointment inquiries for patients

Ali the virtual agent is currently being trialled across three ELFT services:

This will be another way that you can contact the service about your appointments.

You can message the text-based virtual agent to view and ask questions about any upcoming appointments within the next 60 days, along with requesting an appointment cancellation or reschedule.

What is AI (Artificial Intelligence)?

Artificial Intelligence means different things to different people. In this context ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is the use of natural language processing, allowing the virtual assistant Ali to understand the comments you type within the webchat.

Once Ali has decided the meaning of your text, it will follow a standard set of questions, laid out by the Trust, giving you responses that have been written by the Trust.

Therefore, the Artificial Intelligence being used is focused on understanding the language people use and is not being used to decide what care you should receive.

Why do we need Ali?

Ali's aim is to improve your experience when managing appointments and help assist in rescheduling any bookings you are unable to attend while providing an easier way to remind you of future booked appointments.

You can speak to the virtual agent by clicking on the Blue ‘Click to Chat’ button

If you need help, please contact the booking office named in your appointment letter.

You can ask Ali to:

  • Show your appointments booked within the next 60 days;
  • Send an appointment cancellation request to the service on your behalf;
  • Send an appointment reschedule request to the service on your behalf;
  • Questions about your upcoming appointment(s).

Please note, if you wish to amend an appointment scheduled in the next 48hours (excluding weekends/Bank Holidays), please contact the booking office urgently by telephone:

Psychotherapy Department (Specialist Psychotherapy Service City and Hackney) - 020 8510 2900
Newham Child Development Service - call them on 020 8586 6250/51
Dunstable CMHT also known as Beacon House CMHT - call them on 01582 709200

We are introducing a new function to the ELFT website to help people to get answers to simple queries about their care. You may have already seen a virtual agent in action when buying something online. It is when a box pops up asking if you need help or if you need to speak to a member of sales staff. Our virtual agent will work in exactly the same way. You will be able to carry out a number of actions on the website. You will be able to confirm your appointment, cancel it or reschedule it.   

From 15 July 2021 if your care is provided by services in the trial, you will be able to ask the virtual agent for information about 

  • Your appointments (view, reschedule, cancel)  
  • Parking arrangements close by 
  • Local transport links 
  • Opening times 
  • Contact details for my services (phone/email)  

No. The virtual agent is not designed for use in emergency situations. It is for general changes and actions relating to the management of your appointments and information. In an crisis or emergency situation, you should contact your health care professional or contact one of the numbers here for help and advice.

Initially, it will be available on our website but we are looking at other options too for 2022. You can access the ELFT Vvirtual agent through the ELFT services webpage via any web browser, such as Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox. You can access this from the browser on your personal smartphone, desktop PC, laptop, tablet etc.  

Yes, you can always contact the service by telephone. The idea of the virtual agent is to increase your options on how to connect with the service, and make better use of your time.  

Yes, messages are secured and encoded end-to-end. The message will be converted from one system of communication to another. As with all such services, the Trust and its suppliers take the utmost care to ensure full security and data protection measures are in place. It is always important to lock your device when it is not is use. Otherwise, anyone could access your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop and see your information. Making sure you have a password or passcode that only you know means that even if you lose your electronic device, your information is safe.  

You will need to provide key information about yourself when asking for information on your patient record. This is a standard security requirement even if you are on Trust premises. The virtual agent will ask you for either of the following:  

Your NHS Number and date of birth or  
First name, surname, date of birth and postcode  

We advise everyone to lock their devices with a password or passcode regardless of whether it is a phone, laptop, tablet or desktop. If you do not know how to do this, ask your health professional to show you how to do this next time you see them.  

Don’t worry, you can access the virtual agent via a web browser from your desktop PC, laptop or tablet.    

You will be able to de-register from the service at any time, either from the Website, or from Facebook Messenger. You have the option to select ‘Opt-out’ from the carousel in the virtual agent. You also have the option to type ‘Opt-out’ and this will trigger the response. You will then be guided through the process.    

Absolutely, you can either ask the virtual agent to speak to a human or contact the service via the normal phone lines within the stated working hours. When you ‘Opt-in’ to using the virtual agent or begin a new conversation, the virtual agent will automatically share information for which services can be accessed via this mode and to contact the team/service or emergency services in the event of an emergency.  

We hope this will give people more control over checking/changing appointments, requesting letters, etc. It will make better use of your time and be quicker than waiting for the service phone to be answered, waiting in a phone queue or hearing the engaged tone. It means you can complete the change or make your enquiry quickly, and then get on with your day.  

No, we are always happy to take calls from anyone who uses our services. This is an additional channel that we have created to make communication a bit easier for you. As an advocate organisation, we feel we should provide technical digital options as well as the usual channels to respect your time and enable you to complete specific actions quickly and efficiently. Many of the questions you have can probably be answered quickly by the virtual agent, perhaps sooner than calling the service. Also, if we can free up our phone lines a little by offering other ways for you to get the information you need, service users who really need to speak with us on the phone will be able to get through quicker. This will also free up a little bit of staff time to spend on providing care. 

At the moment the virtual agent is programmed to communicate in English. However, we are exploring the option of adding additional languages as the virtual agent might be less stressful for someone to use, rather trying to explain themselves verbally.   

Everyone can call the service directly as they do now. We are also looking at the option to talk-type to make the channel accessible to more clients.   

Yes, you will receive a confirmation of any changes to your appointments be they instigated by the trust or by yourself via the virtual agent. You will receive notifications for 

  • Appointment bookings  
  • Rescheduled appointments (either by trust or patient) 
  • Cancelled appointment (either by trust or by patient)  
  • Appointment reminders 24 hours in advance.  

NB: You will only receive notifications or use the virtual agent if you are part of one of the following services; Dunstable CMHT Bedfordshire, Child Development Service Newham and Specialist Psychotherapy Service City and Hackney.  

No, in this release, the virtual agent does not have the ability to update your personal information. However, this is something we may look into in the future. If your personal details need updating, please contact your service directly.   

No, the virtual agent will not provide you with your NHS Number. Your NHS number is available / can be retrieved on any of the following 

  • Appointment Letters 
  • Clinic Letters 
  • Call the service, you will need to provide; Name, Postcode etc. in order to identify yourself 
  • Ask at your next appointment 

For more information contact