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ICMR deploys IBM Watson assistant to empower frontline testing facilities

New Delhi: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has collaborated with tech giant IBM to bring its Artificial intelligence-powered Watson virtual assistant on its portal to respond to queries from front-line staff and data entry operators across the country on COVID-19.

The virtual agent has been deployed on protected pages of the ICMR website that can be accessed only by authorized personnel who are involved with sample collection and testing in hospitals and diagnostic labs, IBM said in a statement on Monday.

The queries could be related to nature and process of data to be captured by test labs, how to record inventory of test kits and reagents, process of reporting to various Government agencies and references to the latest guidance, in addition to responding to queries on COVID-19 in general.

“It is critical to remain focused on testing, diagnosis and treatment in order to lower the growth curve. This collaboration with IBM will help automate responses from the field and facilitate access to accurate and updated data on COVID-19 diagnostics and reporting,” said Professor Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR.

“This will help augment our teams’ response time and allow them to concentrate on priorities like developing, updating testing and treatment protocols and guidance for COVID-19,” he added.

The Watson virtual agent is able to understand and respond to common queries in English and Hindi from approved testing facilities for COVID-19 across India at scale, around the clock in a uniform and timely manner.

The virtual agent is also expected to help in on-boarding new data entry operators and staff of diagnostic centres, as the COVID-19 test network expands across the country.

“The deployment of IBM’s chatbot AI platform is aimed to help ICMR effectively manage the process of capturing data relating to COVID-19,” said Gopalakrishnan Senior Additional Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

IBM last month said it has trained virtual agent ‘Watson Assistant for Citizens’ to answer common queries about COVID-19.

‘Watson Assistant for Citizens’ leverages currently available data from external sources which include the Union Health Ministry and other government sources for prevention and treatment related guidance, citizen welfare schemes in India, as well as global resources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

“As India rises to meet the challenge of COVID-19, it is crucial to enable government bodies such as ICMR to utilize data and capabilities effectively for rapid detection and treatment,” said Sandip Patel, General Manager, IBM India/South Asia.

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