One of the continuing challenges in healthcare is developing techniques for communicating with patients in an efficient and effective way. The goal of such a conversation may be to remind them about an appointment or perhaps persuade them to take some action regarding their health. A recent article addressed a chatbot campaign launched by a physician office to increase patient response to flu shots (see: Chatbot campaign for flu shots bolsters patient response rate by 30%). A chatbot is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods (see: Chatbot) Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Below is an excerpt from the article about the chatbot:
A number of vendors are offering chatbots for healthcare, notably Babylon Health, Buoy Health, Catalia Health, Florence, Memora Health, SapientX, SimplifiMed and Your.MD, among others. Chatbots can be used in a number of different ways. One is to triage patients. In this scenario, the patient tells the bot about his or her symptoms and the bot responds with further options. Another way bots can be used is for administrative purposes, such as scheduling and communicating with patients....[One physician] decided...[to use]...a product from SimplifiMed specifically to help facilitate communication between patients and clinicians. A key example of when his practice used this function was its annual flu initiative. During flu season the practice typically sent out pamphlets and emails to remind patients to get their shots....[The] response rate, in fact, jumped from around one percent when the practice used other channels to 30 percent with texting. The time it took patients to respond was also much faster than usual. ....The [physician's] practice has recently switched over to athenahealth so the chatbot can now integrate with the EMR system. In the future he said the practice will expand the chatbot use to some of the triage purposes.
The article does not go into any detail about how the chatbot software was integrated into the physician's practice but I think there are a couple of ways it might have been used. One path is an app for patients that is installed on their smart phones and can deliver medical advice. Another chatbot option might occur when a patient calls the physician's office for an appointment. Following such an interaction, a suggestion about the need for a flu shot can be initiated by the chatbot. I have been impressed by the improvement in AI technology such that an interaction by a patient with a chatbot is becoming less arduous and artificial. I was also impressed by the number of medical chatbot vendors that were referenced in the article. Looks like a booming industry.