Can AI Chatbots Improve Patient Engagement?

Healthcare is a shining example of creative development in the quickly evolving world of digital technology. The emergence of AI chatbots is one of the most significant trends changing this environment. These intelligent digital assistants are revolutionizing how healthcare providers interact with patients, boosting engagement, streamlining support services, and enhancing patient experiences. For instance, according to IBM, organizations may save up to 30% on customer service expenses by using chatbots. Let’s explore the potential of AI chatbots in the sphere and find out how this technology can benefit healthcare providers and patients.

AI Chatbots for healthcare Image Source: Freepik

Chatbots vs. AI Chatbots

What is the difference between an ordinary chatbot and an AI chatbot?

A chatbot is a software that simulates verbal or written human conversation. In this generation of chatbots, there are no detailed questions or responses. They usually search keywords and provide solutions based on the words and phrases in a query.

For instance, if you ask a digital agency’s chatbot to give you CRO recommendations, it’ll likely answer or redirect you to relevant content. However, it’ll probably not be useful if you need help to understand some tips and therefore require a better explanation.

AI chatbots, or conversational AI, can “talk” to customers in a manner comparable to human interaction, generating responses on the go. A conversational bot recognizes the purpose and understands the meaning behind the inquiry without human involvement. Instead of just providing a link to guiding materials or instructions, it generates a response. In this scenario, users may communicate with the AI bot just like they would with a live operator.

Conversational AI chatbots could understand the goal of your communication without needing a specific query from you. Therefore, even if a customer’s question sounds different from others that have been heard, a conversational AI bot can still grasp what they are attempting to ask.

AI Chatbots in Healthcare

It’s not too bold to say that AI chatbots transform healthcare services by ensuring individualized experiences and 24/7 accessibility. They can be integrated into different digital platforms, including websites and messaging applications of healthcare companies, hospitals, and medical centers. Their impact becomes evident if you consider the variety of functions they have, helping to make the system more efficient and patient-friendly:

24/7 Patient Query Handling

AI chatbots can offer immediate responses to queries at any time of the day. This includes questions about symptoms, treatments, medicine, or facility services. With this capability, chatbots improve customer experience and reduce employees’ workload.

Appointment Scheduling

AI chatbots can facilitate scheduling appointments in healthcare facilities based on the availability of doctors or other specialists and patients’ preferences. They can also provide appointment reminders, reducing the chance of no-shows.

Medication Reminders

AI chatbots can be programmed to remind patients about their medication schedules. They can also offer additional information, such as side effects, ensuring patients are well-informed about their prescriptions.

Patient Education

AI chatbots can provide accurate, reliable information about diseases, treatments, and health management. This gives patients more knowledge about their conditions, empowering them to play a more active role in the healthcare journey.

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Post-Treatment Assistance

AI chatbots can follow up with patients post-treatment, monitoring their recovery, answering questions, and providing further care instructions as needed.

Overseeing Chronic Diseases

AI chatbots may provide individualized care plans, medication reminders, and lifestyle advice to individuals with chronic conditions, including diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. Patients can get ongoing help and supervision to enhance their health results.

Challenges and Opportunities for AI Chatbots in Healthcare

The future of AI chatbots in healthcare holds immense potential. Chatbots can help bridge the healthcare divide in remote or underserved areas. Additionally, as technology advances, the capabilities of chatbots will likely expand, leading to even higher patient satisfaction.

  1. Improved accessibility: AI chatbots can make healthcare more accessible, particularly for patients in remote areas or those with mobility issues. AI can easily solve some concerns since chatbots imply constant support and the ability to answer the most common queries.
  2. Time saver: By automating routine tasks, AI chatbots can free up time for healthcare employees to focus on more complex tasks, thereby improving the quality and efficiency of the healthcare services provided.
  3. Personalized experience: AI chatbots efficiently gather data. Hence, it can provide customized care based on each patient’s needs and health history, facilitating their journey through the healthcare system.
  4. Data collection and analysis: AI chatbots can collect and analyze data from patient interactions, providing insights that can be used for predictive analysis, and service delivery improvement.
  5. Cost reduction: Over time, AI chatbots can reduce costs associated with administrative tasks, offering a significant return on investment.

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We’ve already said a lot about the benefits and opportunities AI chatbots ensure in healthcare. Yet, the technology is relatively new and therefore has certain limitations and drawbacks:

  1. Data security: Chatbots have to manage confidential data, such as user names, email addresses, phone numbers, identification numbers, etc. Since they serve as the initial point of contact for many of your clients. Such data is an easy target for hackers if it is not stored securely. So it’s crucial to maintain the integrity of the data that customers trust you with.
  2. Misinformation: AI chatbots rely on pre-programmed responses and machine learning algorithms. If not properly managed, they could potentially dispense incorrect advice, which would be ok in other circumstances. But the stakes are too high when we talk about one’s health.
  3. Integration with existing systems: Healthcare providers use a variety of software systems. Ensuring that a chatbot can integrate smoothly with these systems is crucial, yet it may be hard to achieve.
  4. Lack of human touch: When it comes to such a delicate topic as health, interacting with a real person is particularly important. According to Marketsplash, 67% of people don’t want AI to decide how much pain medication they get. Naturally, AI can’t provide the same level of professionalism, care, and emotional support as a human, which can impact patient satisfaction scores.

3 Real-world Implementations of AI Chatbots in Healthcare

The potential of AI chatbots in healthcare is not just theoretical. Various real-world implementations demonstrate the reality of it. Let’s look at some real-life case studies, providing insights into how AI chatbots contribute to patient care and support services, making healthcare more efficient and accessible.

  1. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: This Los Angeles-based hospital implemented an AI chatbot platform called GYANT to offer patients a preliminary diagnosis based on their reported symptoms. The chatbot asks patients about their complaints and uses AI algorithms to provide a potential diagnosis, reducing the need for in-person consultations for minor issues.
  2. Babylon Health: One of the leading healthcare chatbots, allowing users to report and describe disease symptoms to the app. The application compares the signs to an extensive database of diseases and then offers the necessary guidance.
  3. Sensely Inc.: One of the greatest chatbots for healthcare communicating with consumers through its avatar Molly. This virtual doctor evaluates the patient’s symptoms, interprets the problem, and offers medical guidance. The bot can even assess the urgency of cases and decide if the patient needs to visit a doctor.


Examples of AI Chatbots in use by Healthcare Platforms

Images sources: Gyant, Babylon Health, Sencely Inc.

These case studies highlight the innovative applications of AI chatbots in the healthcare sector. From preliminary diagnoses to patient education and personalized care, AI chatbots are becoming an integral part of the digital healthcare landscape.

Building an AI Chatbot in Healthcare

Before implementing an AI chatbot, healthcare providers need to assess their patient’s needs and the compliance of their existing infrastructure with AI chatbot integration requirements. Here’s the list of the next steps:

  1. Choose a platform: There are various AI chatbot platforms to choose from. Chatfuel, Botsify, Pandorabots, IBM Watson Assistant, and others are some of the best-known ones. Choose one that meets your requirements regarding functionality, ease of use, and integration capabilities.
  2. Use NLP

Incorporate Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities into your bot to comprehend and interpret user inputs. Utilize NLP frameworks or APIs to analyze and decode natural language inquiries.

  1. Train the bot: An AI chatbot needs to be trained with relevant data to respond accurately to user queries. To do this, you need to gather information from healthcare professionals. Create an extensive list of all possible questions, inquiries, and situations your chatbot can be addressed with.
  2. Test: Before launching, conduct rigorous testing to identify any potential issues. This step is crucial to ensure a smooth user experience and to mitigate the risk of errors once the chatbot goes live.
  3. Launch: Once tested and refined, the chatbot can be launched. It’s important to manage the change well, ensuring that staff and patients are adequately informed about the new tool and how to use it.
  4. Monitor and adjust: After launch, continually monitor the chatbot’s performance. Use analytics and user feedback to refine and improve the chatbot over time. Launching the chatbot is not the end of the journey. It’s the beginning of a continuous improvement process.

Final Word

AI chatbots hold significant promise for the healthcare sector. With their ability to enhance patient engagement, streamline support services, and potentially bridge the healthcare accessibility gap, the future of healthcare could be at our fingertips.

One of the mind-blowing facts proving the great value of AI is that, according to Marketsplash, in a 2020 research, AI-based algorithms successfully identified 68% of COVID-19-positive patients that healthcare professionals had misdiagnosed as negative. As technology continues to advance, healthcare providers and businesses should remain open to such incredible possibilities.

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