By Carlos Meléndez, COO, Wovenware.
Chatbots, or conversational AI, seem to be everywhere in our daily lives and go-to solutions for digital transformation initiatives. From banks to insurance companies and e-commerce sites, these automated assistants offer help, answer our questions and guide us – often without our really even knowing it. In today’s 24/7 environment, they fulfill the need for always-on service, anytime and anywhere, since it can be a challenge to staff call centers or customer service departments around the clock.
While we’re getting used to chatbots in customer service, there’s an emerging role for them in healthcare – helping to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Knowledge is Power — Easing Public Concerns One Bot at a time
The ability to provide information at a moment’s notice, anytime, anyplace and alleviating the burden on healthcare staff has made chatbots an important tool at Providence St. Joseph Health in Washington State. This health facility treated the first COVID-19 case in the U.S, and it implemented chatbots to help address the public’s demand for information, while at the same time, freeing up their overtaxed healthcare providers from having to deal with a deluge of calls from sick people and the “worried well.”
Providence Saint Joseph Health turned to technology to help it more effectively manage three critical stages of care: triage, testing and treatment, relying on chatbots to particularly assist during the triage phase of the process. By visiting its Coronavirus Assessment Tool online, people can find out more about which symptoms might indicate the virus, and figure out if they should be seen by a health professional. This chatbot is connected to a virtual patient care visit which enables people to discuss their symptoms with a nurse practitioner. It has had overwhelming success with the public; in its first day of use alone, more than 500,000 people used the chatbot.
Chatbots have been able to step up and meet these types of needs because they combine natural language processing with machine learning capabilities. This allows them to understand and communicate in a free flowing, conversational discussion. Because of the benefits it provides, market opportunities for the technology is growing rapidly: the global market for chatbots is predicted to reach $15.7 billion in 2024, up from $4.2 billion in 2019. And the market for chatbots in healthcare is expected to be over 314 million by 2023.
It’s no wonder that conversational AI has a bright future in healthcare. In an industry where professionals are busy and continually strapped for time, chatbots can provide and collect information, conduct outreach, send reminders and schedule appointments. It can also provide support to patients, their families and the public and offers the convenience of meeting consumers wherever they are – whether it’s on their phone, through messaging, social media or elsewhere.
Chatbot applications are cropping up in other areas of healthcare, including:
- Northwell Health is using chatbots to follow up with patients after their discharge to discuss follow-up questions based on their diagnosis. Because the chatbot is able to check in periodically, it is able to gather four times the amount of information from patients than the hospital would get during a typical phone call.
In another application Norwell Health is reaching out to patients before colonoscopies at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Southside Hospital to answer their questions via email or text and help to dispel any concerns that might prevent them from showing up.
- Personal health assistants, such as Florence, remind patients to take their medicine at scheduled times via chat, and can help them find a pharmacy or doctor’s office, gather more information on conditions, as well as help them monitor health metrics, such as weight or mood.
- Safedrugbot assists doctors and other medical professionals in caring for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Through a messaging app, the chatbot provides key information on drugs, including their active ingredients and alternative options, enabling doctors to easily and quickly provide guidance to their patients.
- Patients can describe their symptoms to the Babylon Health chatbot, which will help diagnose the problem and makes suggestions for next steps.
While there is wide-ranging use of chatbots in the healthcare sector, it appears that the optimum use is in administrative roles for now. A survey of doctors cited in the Journal of Internet Research found that they believe chatbots are well suited for such tasks as scheduling appointments, helping patients locate clinics or providing information on medication. Conversely, they felt that chatbots are not as appropriate for providing patient care, communicating with patients on a human level, or fully diagnosing or treating their conditions.
While the industry is still determining the best use of chatbots, it’s clear that they are meeting a huge need in the industry driving digital transformation that supports healthcare professionals around the clock, so they can get on with the business of treating patients.