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Microsoft Industry Blogs - United Kingdom

Blogger Series - Azure AI bot Helping Smokers

Niall Winter works within Microsoft’s Customer Success Team. Here he looks at how one customer is delivering social change through an AI-powered chatbot.

Smoking causes fatal diseases such as pneumonia, emphysema and lung cancer. Helping people to quit smoking is one of the toughest challenges of our time. Emerging technologies such as AI are now being used to address this major social issue.

78,000 people in the UK die from smoking every year. Many more live with debilitating smoking-related illnesses. And it costs the NHS £3.6 billion to treat these smoking-related illnesses each year. For a service under strain, using AI technology to prevent these diseases will help not only the people, but will also reduce strain on our healthcare system.

The transformative power of AI

Screenshot of the Quit with Bella app

Solutions 4 Health has long provided smoking cessation services, typically as one-to-one or one-to-many counselling sessions and information evenings. The company truly believes in the power that AI has to help transform health services. And in the past it has used AI to help streamline backend processes, such as online services, virtual appointments, and instant messaging.

But for its latest project the company decided to investigate how AI could further help it to support its smoking cessation services. Individual 24/7 support isn’t always available, and cravings can happen at any moment. Solutions 4 Health wanted to address the problem of limited support staff, and 24/7 demand. The result is the world’s first AI-powered quit smoking coach, Quit With Bella.

Screenshot of the Quit with Bella app

 

Hosted on Microsoft Azure, and built using the Azure Bot Service SDK, Bella can give practical advice when you need it. The app helps users to focus on outcomes, or even provides a joke if you’re feeling down. And Quit with Bella uses knowledge from hundreds of experts, who have helped thousands of people to stop smoking, providing a personal, friendly, and expert service.

Turning a hard journey into a positive one

AI is having a transformative effect on Bella’s users, and is turning their quitting journey into a positive one. Bella is providing them with a non-judgmental ear, which they can feel comfortable talking to. And smokers looking to quit can access advice whenever, wherever, and without worrying about extra costs beyond a smartphone. Because of this, people who would not normally interact with a traditional smoking cessation programme are engaging with Bella.

Quit with bella screenshot

The latest update saw the addition of a forum to Bella. Smokers trying to quit can interact, and support each other through the bot. This turns a user’s experience from one conversation, into the ability to join a whole community. The users will get assistance, even beyond Bella, from people going through the same journey as them. They’ll be able to celebrate how long they’ve been smoke-free, get extra tips they haven’t considered, or even just had someone who’s going through the same experience as them to chat to.

So far this community feature has resulted in more user engagement, a higher quitting ratio, and populations becoming healthier on a large scale. And the reaction to Bella has been great, with usage continuing to grow.

And with 20 percent quit rates, Bella will have an ongoing positive affect on the NHS, as well as helping us to become a healthier, more robust population.

About the author:

Niall WinterNiall has worked in the tech industry for over 10 years and at Microsoft for the last 3. His current role in the Customer Success Team allows him to work with customers who are building the next generation of technology solutions. He guides them towards best practice and innovative solutions. He is passionate about using AI to improve people’s standard of living, particularly in Healthcare.