Despite chatbots existing since the early days of the internet, it wasn’t until recently that an increasing number of healthcare organizations and facilities began adopting them. The average consumer knows about chatbots — the tiny speech bubbles popping up on just about every website are hard to miss.
While some people dislike chatbots, others enjoy using them, as they believe the technology adds to their online experience. What is it about chatbots that hospitals, urgent cares and other healthcare facilities want to invest in them?
The Pros and Cons of Chatbots in Healthcare
It’s essential to understand the pros and cons of chatbots in the healthcare industry. As with all technologies, chatbots offer advantages and disadvantages to patients, healthcare workers and insurance companies.
Here are the pros and cons of using a chatbot in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
- A constant source of interaction for patients
- Gives patients a sense of anonymity
- An effective method of gathering data
- Appointment scheduling made easy
- Supports administrative work
- Facilitates payment and insurance procedures
- Can help with staffing issues or labor shortages
- Frees up hospital workers to focus on more meaningful tasks
- Increased costs
- Cybersecurity and data privacy concerns from patients
- Must meet health care regulations and compliance requirements
- Cannot replace in-person or virtual consultations with healthcare providers
- Could spark ethical issues
Similarly, the widespread use of chatbots for medical purposes could invite cybersecurity and data privacy concerns from patients, for valid reasons. Healthcare chatbots could also spark ethical issues, ranging from the social implications of the chatbot's design to the types of responses the chatbot can give.
Modern chatbots rely on artificial intelligence (AI). Still, they cannot pass the Turing test — an assessment to determine whether or not an AI is sentient. In other words, chatbots are less advanced than some innovative AI solutions, but they’ve come a long way since their introduction.
How Chatbots Are Transforming Hospitals for the Better
Why are chatbots in the healthcare space so important? First, patients required more interaction with healthcare organizations at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With state and local restrictions, people remained inside their homes more frequently to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. However, the onset of the pandemic made more people reflect on their health, so doctor appointments started filling up fast.
Chatbots became more popular in healthcare out of necessity — there needed to be more healthcare workers to meet increased patient demand and expectations. Although chatbots are extremely helpful for many organizations, they cannot replace a real doctor’s visit or emergency procedure.
A study in 2019 identified the most valuable features of health chatbots as:
- Real-time interaction
These features are crucial to the patient experience in the healthcare sector. For example, anonymity is an essential principle in modern health care. Laws like HIPAA protect patients and their private health information. Some patients might worry about chatbots sharing sensitive data, but many AI-based chatbot solutions have robust security measures to prevent that from happening.
Organizations Using Healthcare Chatbots
As mentioned above, more healthcare organizations are leveraging chatbots to benefit their employees, patients and other stakeholders. What are some of the top organizations using healthcare chatbots?
A conversational AI chatbot called Scout was created by the health technology company Gyant. Intermountain Health in Utah is currently using Scout to tell patients what to do when they’re having symptoms. Sometimes, Scout will recommend to patients to visit the emergency room or urgent care, get rest and drink fluids or make an appointment to see their doctor.
Scout and other chatbots like it are “symptom-checkers,” meaning they ask about symptoms and escalate severe issues to doctors. These chatbots have proven extremely helpful during the pandemic, as many people questioned the severity of their symptoms to determine if they needed to seek emergency care.
Healthcare organizations struggle to find workers and manage unfilled positions in hospitals and other facilities. Houston Methodist adopted a chatbot into its system, which comprises six community hospitals, 1.6 million outpatient visits per year and almost 28,000 employees.
By using an automated chatbot powered by Paradox, Houston Methodist saw:
- 30% increase in applications for hard-to-fill positions
- 60% of qualified candidates sent in applications after hours
- 88% of interviews were scheduled the same day a candidate applied
These figures illustrate how the chatbot served as a boost to the organization’s hiring efforts.
Northwell Health is another organization that implemented health chatbots for its patients. According to a report from Healthcare IT News, the system saw a 94% engagement rate with oncology patients and 83% of clinicians said the bot helped improve the level of care they could deliver.
Chatbots and other types of automation in health care are a top priority for Northwell Health. CEO of Conversa Health Murray Brozinsky suggests automated support will become increasingly necessary in the future of health care.
Expect More Chatbot Use in the Health and Medical Fields
Depending on the state of public health, hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent cares and outpatient offices can quickly become overwhelmed with numerous patients seeking care. In light of the pandemic, hospitals and other facilities are adopting chatbot solutions to alleviate some of the pressure to deliver efficient, high-quality care. Expect more chatbots in health care to emerge and become staples in the industry.
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