Use of Chatbots in Healthcare Industry

 

Introduction

Conversational applications, or chatbots as they are more popularly known, are revolutionizing the way humans interact with technology. Voice controlled bots are forecasted to replace traditional messaging applications. Across the world, companies are investing heavily in chatbot technology to simplify their processes, augment employee productivity and improve customer experience. But before we delve into the details of this new-age technology, let us first understand what chatbots are.

What is a chatbot?

In simple words, chatbots are Artificial Intelligence-powered programs that a user interacts with via a conversational interface. To execute the program’s functions, the user can either type or speak out the command. This is the basic advantage of chatbots – they free the user from the burden of typing buttons to feed commands into their smart devices, making interacting with products and service providers a whole lot easier.

AI-based applications have huge cost-cutting, time-saving and revenue-leveraging potential. Every industry has therefore jumped into the chatbot bandwagon, each seeking new ways to tap into the limitless reserves of AI. Telecommunication, aeronautics, automobile, online retail, hospitality, banking, even healthcare. Yes. The healthcare sector has witnessed a boom in chatbots and AI technologies over the last decade. Conversational apps are being increasingly used to offer personalized services to patients and serve as intelligent personal assistants (IPA).

Due to the global shortage of qualified medical professionals and high cost of medical care and treatment, chatbots are expected to play a pivotal role in providing affordable healthcare to the general masses. With the widespread use of smartphones, AI-based bots are slated to radicalize the healthcare industry in the coming years. It’s fairly simple to use. All a user has to do is download a free mobile medical app or send a message at Facebook or other messenger platforms of their choice and get started.

 

Benefits of chatbots in healthcare

Here are some of the many benefits afforded by chatbots in healthcare.

  • They help reduce the burden on doctors and other medical professionals by addressing health concerns that can be easily diagnosed and quickly and summarily treated.
  • They eliminate the need to visit physicians for minor health concerns by providing access to readily available and reliable medical advice.
  • They give the larger population access to affordable medical counsel and assistance, thus helping to bring down healthcare cost.
  • Chatbots help user understand their symptoms and seek appropriate treatment by connecting them with the right department and doctor.
  • They book doctor’s appointments and keep users informed about pre-appointment and post-appointment actions with regular reminders. Chatbots also take care of changes in appointment and update their users’ personal details.
  • Chatbots play an important role as health assistants for patients suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes by keeping track of their daily activities and reminding them to take their medicines on time.
  • They help users access their laboratory test results, pay medical bills and refill prescriptions.
  • They offer convenient assistance via all channels – phone, message, email and mobile applications.
  • They help promote safe sex practices among young people who do not have access to sex education. This is expected to go a long way in preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
  • Chatbots are also anticipated to make mental health care and therapy more accessible and acceptable by making it readily available, thus removing the taboo associated with it.
  • Some bots also offer drug abuse related services. These are expected to play a big role in the near future in tackling drug menace.

Everyday application of healthcare chatbots

Chatbots have made it easier for people to access medical advice and care. For example, a person may have a query regarding a medical condition that may not require the full attention of a doctor, but leaving it unanswered may prove to be harmful in the long run.

This is where healthcare chatbots enter the picture. They help answer simple medical questions and clear your doubts instantly. They help you understand symptoms and recommend necessary actions.

A new mother might want to know the right bath water temperature for her baby. A woman might want advice on what pills to take for menstrual cramps. A father might want to know what salve to apply on his seven-year-old’s bruised knee. These are all minor medical queries that can be satisfactorily and most importantly, reliably answered by AI-supported bots. Of course, if the situation and symptoms warrant a medical professional’s physical intervention, the bot will offer appropriate suggestions and help the user get the right medical care.

Some may argue that one could simply Google the information. While this may be true, one must keep in mind that not all information provided by Google is reliable. One needs to exercise due discretion as some of the content may contain unverified, even misleading, information. In such a scenario, reliance on AI seems to be the easiest fix. It has access to a wide pool of medical database. It can provide accurate diagnoses and recommend appropriate medical actions.

The best thing about bots is that, unlike real doctors and nurses, they are available round the clock, 365 days a year. You can get any medical advice and assistance any time you want.

Here’s how a typical interaction with a health chatbot would go:

User: Hi ‘name of chatbot’!

Chatbot: Hello Lily, how can I help you?

User: My son has a mild fever and a runny nose. I’m a little worried.

Chatbot: May I know your son’s age and body temperature at the moment?

User: He is eight years old. His current temperature is 103ᵒF.

Chatbot: Since when has he had the fever?

User: Since yesterday morning.

Chatbot: Apart from a runny nose, are there any other symptoms?

User: No.

Chatbot: Lily, 103ᵒF for an eight-year-old is fairly high. I recommend you see a physician at the earliest. Let me call your doctor’s clinic and book an appointment for you.

With the increasing investments in chatbot and AI technologies, the market today has some very competitive smart bots in the healthcare sector. Many of these have sophisticated programs that help locate local specialists, hospitals and clinics. Some are specially designed to help women keep track of their period and provide birth control pill reminders. Most bots have IPA abilities with almost-human characteristics. They double as personal nurses for the old and the infirm by providing 24×7 post-operative care and medication reminders with real human-like interaction.

The following chart shows a recent survey conducted in the UK on the health solutions most consumers desire.

 

The future of health chatbots

In order to fully leverage the benefits of AI and chatbot technologies, the government, healthcare organizations, software developers and medical and technological experts need to work cohesively to make smart bots more accessible, reliable and affordable.

The information bots provide need to be 100% accurate, which means there has to be a large verified database of medical FAQs.

Also, the next generation of bots must be more intelligent and efficient than the current one. They must also offer a more human-like chatting experience.

These are some of the factors that will decide the future of healthcare chatbots.

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