A chatbot helped more people access mental-health services

The chatbot’s creators, from the AI company Limbic, set out to investigate whether AI could lower the barrier to care by helping patients access help more quickly and efficiently.

A new study, published today in Nature Medicine, evaluated the effect that the chatbot, called Limbic Access, had on referrals to the NHS Talking Therapies for Anxiety and Depression program, a series of evidence-based psychological therapies for adults experiencing anxiety disorders, depression, or both.  

It examined data from 129,400 people visiting websites to refer themselves to 28 different NHS Talking Therapies services across England, half of which used the chatbot on their website and half of which used other data-collecting methods such as web forms. The number of referrals from services using the Limbic chatbot rose by 15% during the study’s three-month time period, compared with a 6% rise in referrals for the services that weren’t using it.  

Referrals among minority groups, including ethnic and sexual minorities, grew significantly when the chatbot was available—rising 179% among people who identified as nonbinary, 39% for Asian patients, and 40% for Black patients. 

Crucially, the report’s authors said that the higher numbers of patients being referred for help from the services did not increase waiting times or cause a reduction in the number of clinical assessments being performed. That’s because the detailed information the chatbot collected reduced the amount of time human clinicians needed to spend assessing patients, while improving the quality of the assessments and freeing up other resources.

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