The chatbot was developed to improve communication with Covid-19 patients while minimising transmission risk.PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

His bedside manner might leave a bit to be desired, but Doctor Covid is proving quite a tonic for 3,000 patients staying in community care facilities.

The doctor is, in fact, a chatbot service on instant messaging service Telegram, but he never misses reminding those patients to record their vital signs.

The chatbot was developed by SingHealth and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research with support from the Integrated Health Information Systems to improve communication with Covid-19 patients while minimising transmission risk among healthcare workers. Patients who subscribe to the chatbot service get daily broadcast messages such as reminders and other medical information as well as regular check-ins on their mental well-being.

One week into his stay at a community care facility, for example, a patient could be prompted with questions such as "Are you scared?" and "Are you sad?"

Responses are anonymised and used to identify trends and risk indicators related to the virus, and may also be used for more long-term research purposes, among other things.

Occasionally, Doctor Covid will offer patients movie links, exercise videos and video clips featuring words of encouragement from celebrities to lift spirits.

The chatbot service is available in five languages, including Bengali. An upgraded version out later this year will incorporate conversational artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which uses machine learning and natural language processing to analyse and respond to complex questions posed by users.

Mr Franklin Tan, SingHealth's director of the office for service transformation, said yesterday that the chatbot solves two problems - patients who may face language barriers with staff, and the manpower constraints with healthcare workers having to care for many people.

"Doctor Covid leverages innovation and technology to better... care for these residents, while allowing healthcare workers to gain better insight into how each resident is doing," he added.

Community care facilities, such as those at Singapore Expo, house thousands of Covid-19 patients - most of whom are migrant workers - who are clinically well or have mild symptoms.

Doctor Covid is similar to SGDormBot, a chatbot service available via WhatsApp that is being used at a number of foreign worker dormitories. The bot developed by the National University Health System and AI healthcare start-up Bot MD reminds users daily in their native languages to record their vital signs, and sends instant alerts to doctors whenever abnormal readings pop up.