Versus Arthritis: COVA

The UK’s first condition-specific Coronavirus chatbot

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Following on from the success of ‘AVA’ – a virtual assistant built to provide online advice and support to the estimated 18.8 million people living with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions across the UK – Versus Arthritis wanted to make it easier for vulnerable individuals to get in touch during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The charity experienced an unprecedented increase in calls to its helpline, traffic to its website and messages on social media channels when the pandemic hit. This came as a direct result of people needing information after the government announced sweeping measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the first half of 2020. 

Therefore, it urgently needed a means to address the questions and concerns of people with arthritis, in turn providing valuable support during what was an extremely distressing time for many. Importantly, the new solution had to be standalone to its existing chatbot, with the ability to provide expert advice as quickly as possible.


Using our Fast Track Coronavirus Response solution, we were able to build a new chatbot dedicated to answering COVID-19-related questions in just two weeks. This speed of deployment and execution was essential at a time when people were dealing with a huge amount of disruption. 

Called ‘COVA’, the virtual assistant incorporated health information developed specifically for people with arthritis and other MSK conditions in relation to the impact of the pandemic, with answers from Versus Arthritis as well as the British Society for Rheumatology, the NHS and GOV.UK.

It focused on four central themes: information on medication and conditions, guidance on isolation, maintaining mental & physical well-being, and financial guidance. A button-based experience was used to guide users to the most relevant answer for their query, ensuring that accurate responses were provided to users. 

Although getting all the new content medically approved presented an initial challenge, the simple and flexible nature of the EBM platform made it easy for the Versus Arthritis team to quickly switch out content and save efficiencies further down the line. 

Finally, COVA also utilised a coronavirus risk calculator developed by the British Society of Rheumatology to help users assess whether they were more vulnerable and should shield.


The EBM platform has empowered the Versus Arthritis team to continuously improve its services and health information, increasing COVA’s content and functionality and deploying to multiple chat and voice channels. The platform can be scaled to thousands of conversations, thereby ensuring that sufferers can get the support they need. 

It has also put the technology in the hands of the subject matter experts. This enabled them to quickly update and adapt COVA as the pandemic unfolded, such as by responding to government guidance with additional content whenever new measures were announced. Other key results include: 

  • Over 1000 conversations and more than 10,000 messages in under a week 
  • 89% positive user feedback: 49% said ‘Very helpful’ and 40% said ‘Good’

Press: Daily Mail | Charity Today | ThirdSector

“COVA represented a one-stop shop where people with arthritis and MSK conditions could go with confidence to get the information they needed to maintain their health and wellbeing.

With EBM’s support, COVA was able to have a big impact for people in a time of great change and uncertainty.”

Karina Brisby
Head of Digital and AI | Versus Arthritis

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