Demystifying the Healthcare Chatbot Revolution and its Current Applications

Chatbots running on the power of artificial intelligence are quickly making their presence felt in the field of healthcare.

According to a report by Frost and Sullivan, 90 percent of the hospitals in the US would use AI and chatbots to save lives and improve the quality of care by 2025. A research by Accenture found that by 2026 the hospitals are estimated to save $150 billion on a yearly basis for the US healthcare economy by the adoption of Chatbots.

In this piece, we will cover all you need to know about healthcare chatbots, the advantages they bring to the table, top healthcare chatbots in the industry in 2020, their use cases today, and the important considerations for building a healthcare chatbot.

Applications of chatbots in healthcare and future possibilities

Chatbots can help resolve some of the pressing challenges faced by healthcare professionals and ease the administrative burden on them. Simultaneously, they can also boost the levels of patient engagement in the care regimen prescribed, ramping up the overall outcomes.

There are countless areas where healthcare chatbots can find their applicability. From being the first point of contact for reliable medical information for at-home care to managing medication adherence and post-hospitalization care, chatbots are becoming an indispensable part of the healthcare delivery system.

Here are some of the areas where healthcare chatbots are proving invaluable and leading examples of the same in 2020.

1. Tracking Emotional Wellbeing

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that the need for human interaction is felt more than ever. However, the challenges with the accessibility of mental health professionals and the stigma associated with therapy often discourage people to seek help. Chatbots can fill in this crucial gap and make mental health care more accessible, bringing a semblance of human interaction while using the data to improve outcomes.

A chatbot for mental health and emotional well being? Bring it on! Chatbots like Youper and Woebot exist solely for this purpose.

Youper’s AI algorithms use psychological techniques to have customized conversations with users. The application also has mood trackers to help improve emotional health. Personalization based on the conversation history helps the Youper chatbot to fine-tune the communication based on the users’ needs and make personalized recommendations.

Woebot uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help with the treatment of depression. Based on the chat messaging history, the chatbot gauges the patient’s personality, changes in the mood and subsequently suggests the appropriate remedy. The chatbot is a boon for patients who don’t feel comfortable talking to an actual therapist and prefer chats over in-person conversations.

2. Real-time health consultations

The UK’s NHS started a chatbot for dispensing health information back in 2017. There are a number of applications that are leveraging the power of AI like Babylon health and YourMD. These applications use validated medical literature for training artificial intelligence algorithms. Through a series of chats with the chatbot, the users can get a list of possible conditions.

There are also a number of chatbots that function as symptom checkers like Ada, Sensely, and Infermedica. Ada health is also experimenting with a voice interface through Amazon Alexa. The patients can simply talk to the chatbot rather than conventional text-based interactions.

Sensely app has a symptom triage system in place. It’s chatbot Molly uses AI to analyze the symptoms from the chat and gives the possible diagnosis. It also makes a judgment whether self-care would be sufficient or specialist care would be required and makes location-based specialist recommendations as well.

3. Chronic conditions management

Chatbots can play a very important role in managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. GYANT, a healthcare chatbot company reported that it helped over 785,000 people in Latin America complete diabetes pre-screening. This was followed by the identification of people at high-risk and subsequent weekly checks at the local pharmacies to determine their blood glucose levels.

Chatbot based mobile applications can also result in patients experiencing higher levels of engagement in their treatment protocols. Chatbots that check-in at regular intervals and ensure adherence to the medication regimen can significantly improve the quality of life and overall outcomes of patients battling chronic conditions.

4. Chatbot for cancer treatment

Cancer treatments take a toll not only for the patients themselves but on family and caregivers too. AI-powered conversational chatbots like cancer chatbot and one remission offer great resources for patients battling cancer as well as their caregivers.

Cancer chatbot integrates with Facebook messenger and offers resources and advice to the patients and their caregivers. OneRemission focuses on making the lives of cancer patients easier by facilitating access to the information that they need. From diets and exercises to post-cancer practices, the OneRemission chatbot easily provides them access to all the information they need. The app also allows them to get in touch with an oncologist when needed.

5. Setting up appointments

While the applications of chatbots for patients as end users are numerous, they are equally useful from the perspective of healthcare providers. Chatbots are being used by hospitals and healthcare organizations for automating the appointment setup. Providence St Joseph in Washington state has recently launched its chatbot, Grace. Based on a symptom triage, Grace decides on the course of action and determines whether a clinic visit is necessary.

If required, Grace can call a ride for the patients, provide a heads-up to the clinic and send over the patient’s medical records along with the chat transcripts. The chatbot also informs the users of the out-of-pocket costs and copays.

6. Determining medication safety

Chatbots are great for reminding patients to take their medication doses but what role do they play in doctors’ lives when prescribing the medication? Safedrugbot is a healthcare chatbot developed for doctors. It acts as an assistant to the physicians who need drug safety information when prescribing medication to pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The chatbot gives assistant-like support to the healthcare practitioners by giving them information about the active ingredients present in the medication and the list of alternative medications. Safedrugbot searches through a vast pharmaceutical database to search for specific drug safety information.

7. Chatbots as nursing assistants

A chatbot that acts as a personal nursing assistant, gives out reminders about taking pills, keeps tracks of vitals like body weight, and even points to the nearest doctor or pharmacy when needed. Named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of nursing as we know it, the chatbot Florence acts like a portable nurse for its users.

Launched in 2017, the chatbot integrates with Facebook messenger, Skype and Kik. Once the users input the medication details, Florence sends out reminders when it is time to take the medicines.

Key considerations when developing a healthcare chatbot

“If you’re trying to meet patients where they are and where it’s convenient for them, then the place to meet them is texting on a mobile phone,” said Greg Johnsen, CEO of LifeLink. “Chatbots can improve the customer experience, and improve efficiency. If most of the dialogue and the content is automated, costs will fall sharply.

Chatbots need to be an integral part of your digital health strategy going forward. However, there are certain key aspects that need to be given special attention.

1. Data security

Any data that is collected by the chatbot needs to be secured. If you are storing or transmitting patient data, security needs to be given a priority. Multi-factor authentication, patient data de-identification and total encryption of patient data is a must for ensuring security from malicious attacks.

2. Regulatory compliance

Patient health information is protected under the HIPAA privacy and security law. All healthcare organizations need to take measures to ensure that the app stays compliant with HIPAA and HITECH regulations.

3. Technological excellence

With technology making major leaps, users have grown accustomed to using chatbots and their expectations when interacting with them have risen. The healthcare chatbot that you develop needs to be user friendly and provide a seamless user experience.

Rather than relying solely on predefined responses which limit the scope of conversation, power your chatbot on AI and NLP that allows the chatbot to learn from past interactions and improve on the conversations.

Chatbots are going to be an indispensable part of healthcare delivery in the days to come. How geared up are you for the revolution?

Vinati Kamani
 

Dr Vinati Kamani writes about emerging technology and its application across industries for Arkenea. She is an avid reader and self proclaimed bibliophile. When Vinati is not at her desk penning down articles or reading up on the recent trends, she can be found travelling to remote places and soaking up different cultural experiences.