The Rise Of Healthcare Chatbots

Image of a woman using a smartphone

This week I’m going to take a look at how the world of healthcare is benefiting and being changed by the growth of chatbots.

Let’s kick things of with some general statistics about chatbots:

    • 80% of businesses are forecast to have some form of chatbot system by 2021
    • 1.4 billion people are willing to talk to chatbots
    • By 2022, 75-90% of all enquiries will be handled by chatbots

Within the healthcare sector it is expected that we will continue to see chatbots in use more and more. This is due to advancements in artificial intelligence and improvements to the answering algorithms which will lead to chatbots becoming essential tools in the world of digital health.

So what changes have they made to the medical world already? Well in today’s blog we’re going to focus in on three key areas:

    1. Always-On Accurate Assistance
    2. Reducing Missed Appointments
    3. Helping With Loneliness And Wellbeing

Always-On Accurate Assistance

In a recent poll we ran on LinkedIn we found that 56% of people Google their symptoms all the time and 44% do it occasionally. The trend of consulting Dr Google grew during the pandemic as we found in a previous article.

Seeking reassurance and correct answers is where chatbots can make a real difference as they provide a source of accurate information to people looking for help. In a world where over 50% of sites have been found to provide inaccurate information it shows the growing need for a reliable source of information. Recently a new chatbot Covid Vax Facts was launched with the goal of tackling concerns and fake news around the safety of the various vaccines.

But just as important as providing this reliable information is the fact that chatbots make these answers available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. This for me is the key benefit that chatbots bring to the medical world especially when you factor in that over 50% of people today expect businesses to be open 24/7 so healthcare needs to follow suit.

By providing an always-on service it means people can chat to an expert at a time which suits them and get their diagnosis without ever stepping foot in a consultation room. This helps reduce the amount of patients that GPs need to see face-to-face each day and for some patients provides a preferable way of interacting with their doctor as it gives them great flexibility with their time.

To give balance it is worth mentioning that we ran a survey on our Twitter account to see if people would be happy discussing their medical issues with an AI chatbot and the results were 42.9% in favour and 57.1% against. So it seems not everyone is ready for them.

Reducing Missed Appointments

Each missed appointment costs the NHS £30 on average and ultimately cost the NHS £216million pounds annually. As well as the financial impact it also affects other patients who could’ve taken that timeslot.

To help reduce the wastage around missed or no-show appointments, chatbots are playing their part.

Rather than a simple text or email reminder which can be missed or ignored during the course of a busy day, chatbots can simulate human interaction to help boost appointment attendance by offering friendly reminders. Also hearing something out loud (like an upcoming appointment time) makes you more likely to recall it.

Using a chatbot system for appointment management brings the benefit of being available 24/7 so it’s easier for people to cancel or reschedule appointments. This can have a knock on effect by freeing up resources in a hospital that would’ve historically have been needed to handle all of the admin around appointments.

We also have specific chatbots designed to provide empathetic support pre and post operations to help guide patients through the process. This links to missed appointments as uncertainty and fear around ongoing appointments is often identified as a reason for people not attending. So by using technology to reassure and help with any patient concerns it can help reduce missed appointments. For example, apps like OneRemission, which help cancer patients and survivors by providing key information to save relying on a doctor each time, already feature chatbot functionality and the ability to talk with doctors 24/7.

Helping With Loneliness And Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns caused a rise in isolation and chronic loneliness. To combat this AI has been used to fight back against loneliness. Therapeutic chatbots like Tess and Woebot have been designed to monitor and try to improve mood levels by providing support to those in need such as people with anxiety and depression.

As we move into a hybrid way of working with many working from home more than they did previously, these chatbots could help monitor and boost homeworkers mental health. Whilst they’ll never replace true human interaction you’d get in the office they can certainly help.

There are now a wide range of chatbots that specialise in helping with your mental health. Here are just a small selection of what’s on the market for people to use:

    • Moodnotes – a diary for your daily moods which is then analysed and help steer the user towards more optimistic thought patterns.
    • Moodkit – designed to help identify any mental health issues early and them provide guidance to the user.
    • Joy App – this app will gather information on your physical activities and location to analyse your energy, motivation and mood.
    • Mindly – used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s this app helps to keep users organised via the power of associations.

Find out more

What are your thoughts on the rise of chatbots in the world of digital health? What experiences (good, bad or ugly) have you had? Let us know by getting in touch.

We hope you found this article interesting and if you’d like to read similar articles please bookmark our site as we will be bringing you regular insight articles on the world of MedTech.

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