Chatbots are Eyeing Your Healthcare Now, Too

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on December 14, 2020

Bridging the gap between man and machine is no easy feat. Advancements in artificial intelligence have assisted computers in their communication with humans in order to simplify daily life and tasks. This technology has led to the creation of dialogue platforms such as chatbots, which are aimed at streamlining such interactions. 

At their core, chatbots are designed to both receive and deliver responses that mimic natural language conversation. Across all industries, there’s been an uptick in companies turning to this type of software for a variety of reasons—including making their e-commerce sites or apps more useful and interactive. Although, the encounter isn’t always a seamless one, as many consumers will tell you.

In the healthcare sector, chatbots are being utilized to connect patients with medical providers in a quick and efficient manner. The bots can vary, however, from the breadth of solutions they offer down to their tone of voice. Keep reading for a further look into the role, benefits and challenges of chatbot technology in the healthcare industry. 

Chatbots are a great tool in the medical field to provide patients with immediate assistance when a practice or physician cannot. For example, the platform can help users schedule an appointment, answer common questions, review symptoms and even refill prescription medications. Their role is not to replace the job of healthcare professionals, but to actually improve patient results by increasing the productivity of these providers. If the assistant-like bot cannot comfortably fulfill said duties or queries, it will transfer the patient to a real-life medical professional.

Research suggests that chatbots are one of the most useful resources that industries have access to, with a total of 1.4 billion people using chatbots today. The most familiar of which include Facebook Messenger and Amazon’s Alexa. In addition, 37% admit to using a customer service bot for quick answers in an emergency. The reason being that users want their information to be readily available and easily accessible. Hence the booming popularity of chatbots in healthcare.

There are limitations in terms of what a chatbot is capable of, and it shouldn’t be confused with practical AI. That being said, chatbots are best used in scenarios that would typically require a back-and-forth conversation. This commonly includes customer service encounters. In the 

healthcare industry, the safest way to implement chatbot technology is by using it as the first line of defense, so to speak, to take care of routine tasks such as billing, inventory, filing insurance claims, booking appointments, and more. Chatbots can improve the patient experience by reducing wait times, enabling remote monitoring, simplifying the check-in and discharge process, and more.

What are the benefits? Patient access. Though the medical landscape has changed in recent years thanks to the rise of telemedicine, so has the demand for a higher quality patient experience. Meaning, patients should have access to healthcare services without delay or challenge. Chatbots make it simple for a practice to deliver quality health services on a 24/7 basis. Off-hour support is just one benefit of implementing chatbot technology in the healthcare industry. 

Automated engagement not only serves the patient but the overstretched physician and their staff as well. Having a chatbot pickup the tedious tasks that would normally come across a person’s desk, phone or computer screen significantly lessens their workload, and therefore, improves their own well-being. Whether it’s making more time to build that in-person patient-physician relationship or avoiding burnout altogether—a chatbot can help to improve health outcomes by freeing up a medical provider so that they can offer more direct care. 

In a 2017 report from Juniper Research, the estimated cost savings from the adoption of healthcare bots is $3.6 billion globally by 2022. How? Chatbots have the ability to capture leads, lessen the amount of missed appointments and support a greater volume of visitors than human employees. On average, one-hour-long missed appointment costs a medical provider approximately $200. A simple solution offered by chatbots is to send automated patient reminders, which greatly reduces the likelihood of patients forgetting or failing to show up for their appointments. 

A chatbot is also scalable, meaning if your practice is experiencing a large number of requests, the answer isn’t to hire more employees but to let the chatbot take the lead. Whether they’re dealing with five or 500 requests at a time, their workload is the same. In addition, chatbots can then collect data from website or app visitors that could lead to new, potential patients. Aestheti.bot, for instance, is a medical communication tool for the aesthetics industry created by New York City surgeon Dr. Philip Miller. It allows aesthetic practice’s the ability to capture visitors’ first and last names, emails and phone numbers through their website to bring in new leads. This chatbot can also deliver immediate, personalized answers to aesthetic-based inquiries and is customizable to a physician’s practice, medical recommendations and tone of voice.

Loss of productivity from an administrative or operational standpoint can greatly impact a medical provider’s practice or brand reputation. Automating some of the process by way of chatbots can alleviate time-consuming tasks which in turn, boosts workflow efficiency and secures a healthy working environment. In some cases, a chatbot can tackle filing, inventory or billing management.

Despite the many advantages and benefits of adopting chatbot software, one has to consider the challenges and risks associated with such—HIPAA compliance and patient privacy being at the forefront. To ensure patient and data security, it’s almost imperative to incorporate HIPAA into one’s dialogue platform. Without it, the entire chatbot is one giant security risk. Privacy measures will also need to be put into place to prevent occurrences such as cyber attacks or hacking. 

These days, face-to-face interactions are a thing of the past. With machine-to-human conversations becoming the norm, there’s a possibility of feeling detached. An algorithm simply cannot recognize or express real emotion, which is a downfall for healthcare companies that rely on empathy. While they’re programmed to speak in a conversational manner, they aren’t always able to reciprocate. 

Chatbots can’t solve everything. At Least not yet. However, they are only as strong as the company that builds them and the data that gets stored and supplied to them. For example, if a patient has an inquiry beyond an answer that can be found in the database, a human will need to be brought in for backup—in a relatively quick manner. That medical data must also be constantly updated and edited as part of routine maintenance and interface evolution. Otherwise, the platform runs the risk of user dissatisfaction. 

In a 2018 Market Research report, it was projected that the healthcare chatbots market will reach $314 million by 2023. They attributed that number to the rise in Internet connectivity and smartphone and mobile platform use, in which chatbots play an important role. What that does is make overall access to healthcare much easier than we’re used to, and also broadens its reach. 

As it currently stands, patients are among the largest users of healthcare chatbot software, implementing it to book appointments, find specialists, for pre and post-op care and even for diagnosis (in some cases). Providers and insurance companies, on the other hand, are able to increase their quality of care while also reducing costs and satisfying previously unmet demands. There is no doubt room for enhancement, and you can count on more chatbot solutions and features to develop in years to come. However, even the state that chatbots exist right now can be influential in benefitting a person’s healthcare experience.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he is on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 40+ early stage startups through 2021.

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