For nearly as long as there has been chat on the Internet, there have been chatbots. In the early days, chatbots were mainly a source of amusement. However, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed chatbots into useful tools for across many industries, including healthcare.
The healthcare industry while still in its early stages is transitioning to more IT-based consumer-centered options. Chatbots, for example, are being leveraged to improve patient outcomes as well as customer service.
This post examines some of the many ways that chatbots are helping in healthcare.
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Reduced Patient Self-Diagnosis
One area where chatbots are primed to help the health industry is with patient self-diagnosis. Physicians across the board have struggled with patients, who, after reading a few articles on websites like WebMD, believe they can make their own diagnosis.
It is true that those sites can be useful to help people get a basic idea of what could be ailing them. However, some patients may be under the impression that they can establish a definitive diagnosis for themselves instead of seeking medical care. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Luckily, chatbots can be helpful here.
Chatbots can help patients make sense of their symptoms when paired with natural language processing and adaptable learning algorithms. They can also help them more accurately determine whether they need a trip to the doctor’s office or hospital. Rather than a list of symptoms, a chatbot offers something more akin to analysis.
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One startup is already working on a ‘pocket doctor’ like the one described above. Your.MD is a free app that comes pre-installed on all Samsung Galaxy phones. It provides a diagnostic chatbot. The potential to improve symptom analysis is there, but to function optimally, the program requires crowdsourced information from doctors and hospitals around the globe.
Information Delivery to Patients and Families
Robotic-assisted surgery systems aren’t a new invention. They have been around since 1982 in one form or another.
These systems are still many years away from operating autonomously or under the supervision of an artificial intelligence program. However, integrating them with chatbots as a method of information delivery could be the first step toward that goal.
Despite open communication between patients’ families and surgeons, surgeries are still highly stressful situations for families. Chatbots can be used to deliver information to worried family members during procedures.
Bots won’t discuss specific information. But they could be used to answer general questions such as:
- How long the surgery of a specific type normally lasts?
- What are the reasons why it may go longer than expected?
Improved Telehealth Systems
Telehealth is growing exponentially. It has offered a convenient alternative to more time-consuming office visits.
A good example of this growth is the connection with healthcare providers digitally for post-operative information and care makes sense in many situations. Telehealth is also useful for answering questions and making recommendations. This especially applies to those people with chronic illnesses who need care but for whom travel is difficult.
Typically, while telemedicine doctors are usually available 24 hours a day, a packed schedule can make it difficult to answer every call or question that comes across their screen. This is where chatbots become essential tools. They can streamline the appointment by gathering vital information early.
Chatbots can collect patient information, answer basic questions and get a good idea of what the patient is contacting the physician about before the appointment ever starts. In some situations, patients can get the most basic answers before seeing their physician. Examples include whether a temperature is in a normal range for their situation or if a certain virus is contagious.
Ease the Burden of Customer Service
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, sitting on hold for half an hour or more to get a basic question answered is infuriating. Chatbots are being used to circumvent some of this frustration by providing answers to basic questions such as office hours, types of care offered and other similar inquiries. For some institutions, they are becoming a preferred method of providing the initial phase of customer service.
A secure chatbots system can also be used to deliver basic patient information. This includes routine test results and prescription renewal notifications, as long as providers can ensure HIPPA compliance. Pharmacies could use similar systems to request refills from their providers.
Risks of Chatbots for Telehealth Industry
As with any basic artificial intelligence, there are risks to be considered before implementing a chatbots system. Microsoft learned that lesson in 2016. Exposing their Twitter-based chatbot to the Internet led to it slinging racist slurs within a day of coming online.
There is also the matter of privileged patient information being shared in a networked system. While unlikely, HIPPA compliant chatbots systems can be compromised, sharing private patient information with the hackers.
There are security measures to prevent such an eventuality, like employing high levels of data encryption, making the chats difficult or nearly impossible to hack into.
The bottom line
Chatbots are an increasingly important part of the future of Health IT. But, we’re a long way from having a comprehensive chatbot system that will benefit patients across the board. The app created by Your.MD and other similar projects are the first steps toward turning these applications into a truly beneficial tool for the medical industry.