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Making it on Time


Cambridge University selected Dovetailed’s Ethical Surgery Assistant design brief for their Computer Laboratory's Group Design Projects 2020. More than 15 million GP appointments are missed annually in the UK. We tasked our student group, who called themselves ‘Oscar’, to build a proactive, ethical appointments assistant for a GP surgery that could help reduce the number of missed appointments.


The assistant needed to have a good conversational flow, leading the conversation through AI. Over time it would learn how to handle conversations more effectively and become more personalised based on patient input.


The main goals were for the second-year students to learn how to work in a team, how to work with a professional client and how to plan and follow a systematic management process from start to finish.


During the six-week project we had three review meetings where we worked through the design process from idea to fruition. The team turned our design brief into a formal functional specification and a project plan which assigned tasks to each team member.

In the next phase, they wrote code for the individual components and tested them in isolation, keeping track of components and testing procedures as they went along.


Finally, they pieced the whole system together, tested and prepared it for public demonstration and ensured it was adequately documented. They prepared a final report and presented it at a public exhibition on Wednesday 4 March 2020.

Oscar demonstrated that it could communicate with patients in a semi-natural manner, helping confirm patient attendance at GP appointments and learn over time how to handle conversations more effectively and become personalised based on patient input. Remote database hosting was implemented, allowing access to the database from anywhere at any time, provided internet was available.


A key innovation was the development of a classifier which could detect the right category of an email response from the patient with high accuracy. If the patient wished to reschedule, the classifier could extract suggested slots for a new appointment. The system was also capable of communicating with the outside world using emails. 


Overall, group Oscar were pleased with their results. We really enjoyed working with them and being a part of the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory Group Design Projects 2020 demonstrating innovation, technical flair, teamwork and dedication. It was great to discuss ideas and work with a talented team of students to problem-solve and follow their design journey. Watch this space to see if Oscar – the Ethical Surgery Assistant becomes a reality!

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