Over the last 2 years, in collaboration with the STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council) Hartree Centre, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital have been building a ChatBot called AskOli that is able to interactively respond to patients and families. Oli is able to provide validated information on processes within the hospital e.g. admission, clinic appointment, access to food, etc. as well as handle a number of low level clinical questions such as fasting rules before day case surgery. It is accessible throughout the patient journey, including pre-admission, during admission and after discharge. The service utilises IBM Watson technology (Natural Language Processing) to classify intents, entities and context to respond appropriately.


Ask Oli is part of Alder Hey’s Living Hospital vision, seeking to apply Cognitive Computing technologies to healthcare to address the following needs:

  • The ability for patients / families to access validated information related to a hospital visit or clinical condition in an engaging way, to improve patient experience.
  • The ability to gain insights into frequently asked questions to inform improvements in patient flow / hospital processes.



Being in hospital can be a frightening / anxious experience for patients and families. Having access to timely, validated information is generally accepted in healthcare literature to reduce this stress.

Availability/regulatory status

The AlderPlay App is available on the Google Play App Store and also via the Trust’s website.  The App is not a medical device and does not require regulatory approval.


Evidence to date

In preparation for this work, Alder Hey Innovation Service conducted a survey of patient experience / engagement. This recognised that a service for patients to ask questions in their own words, including questions they felt might be “silly” or “mundane”, would be well received. To build the ChatBot a question collection exercise was performed to identify the questions that mattered most to patients and their families entering Alder Hey. Since launch, Oli has received more than 5000 questions, which have been used to continually train the service. The service is currently applying for funding for a formal evaluation.


Impact for user

By handling a number of low level clinical questions, it is anticipated that Oli will augment other clinical encounters such as clinic appointments in a number of ways: 1) by preparing patients / families well to free up time for higher level discussions with clinicians, 2) to allow patients to ask questions they feel embarrassed to ask face-to-face, 3) by allowing patients to ask questions they may have forgotten.


Impact for healthcare system

Hospital staff also have access to insights gained from the app in real time, including frequently asked/trending questions (e.g. the parking pay machine is broken) and the emotion with which the questions are asked. They can use these insights to make changes to improve patient and family experience.  Clinical time is used more efficiently because patients and families already have answers to more administrative questions.

Overall value assessment

Ask Oli is still at early stages of development, receiving around 250 questions per month that are tailored to the experience of patients and families at Alder Hey, but requires further evidence and development to demonstrate value.  Over time, the intention is to expand the solution to include some general clinical questions, for example what to expect after an operation.