Assess symptoms, consult, renew prescriptions, and set appointments — this isn’t even a full list of what modern chatbots can do for healthcare providers. They’re never tired, always ready to ease the burden on clinicians and improve the quality of care for patients. There are many more reasons for a medical business to develop a healthcare chatbot app, and you’ll find most of them in this article.
Acropolium is no rookie when it comes to healthcare-related applications: we’ve delivered more than 30 solutions over 11 years and provided consulting services for 68 projects. The insights we’ll share in this post come directly from our experience and reflect our knowledge of the algorithms commonly used in chatbots.
Stay on this page to learn what healthcare chatbots are, how they work, and what it takes to create a medical chatbot.
Let’s get started.
Healthcare chatbots — what are they?
Babylon, a digital-first healthcare provider, is reporting an astounding 472% year-to-year revenue growth in H1 2021. The company owes its success to the popularity of its web and mobile apps that serve 24 million people and are mostly based around a chatbot. So, what is the magic sauce that helps businesses like Babylon drive profits and receive worldwide recognition?
Powered by AI (artificial intelligence), medical chatbot software is capable of imitating a human when conversing with a patient. By using NLP (natural language processing), a modern chatbot can recognize human speech in the form of text or audio. By instantly accessing relevant datasets, the app can promptly provide meaningful responses.
Using chatbot technology in healthcare helps automate repetitive tasks, cut down costs, and provide real-time assistance to those in need of it. For instance:
- Although it’s still the doctor’s prerogative to make a diagnosis, AI algorithms can speed up the initial assessment by asking the patient about their symptoms.
- The same information can then be used by administrative personnel to admit the patient to the hospital.
- Talking to an insurance company’s chatbot can be a great alternative to filling out online questionnaires: it’s far more interactive and engaging.
We’ll have more examples of chatbots in medicine, along with a detailed account of their inner workings in the sections that follow. Meanwhile, let’s focus on the benefits of this type of software for healthcare.
Advantages of using chatbots in healthcare
The current pandemic keeps pushing the health industry into the online realm, and automation is inevitable in many areas. Although bots can’t substitute humans, these clever apps have a number of tricks up their sleeve for healthcare providers. Here are the typical benefits that come with the use of chatbot technology in healthcare:
- Immediate response. Only limited by network connection and server performance, bots respond to requests instantaneously. And since chatbots are often based on SaaS (software as a service) packages from major players like AWS (Amazon Web Services), there’s no shortage of resources.
- 24/7 availability. Software helpers don’t tire or take breaks. Proper setup of servers guarantees an almost 100% uptime. This is a crucial characteristic for healthcare.
- Instant access to vast amounts of medical knowledge. Depending on the specific use case scenario, chatbots possess various levels of intelligence and have datasets of different sizes at their disposal. On top of that, their reaction time remains superhuman.
- Smarter management of resources. Chatbots become the first point of contact between a patient and a medical facility, eliminating routine operations for doctors and nurses. This frees up time that can be redistributed on more important tasks.
- High patient satisfaction is the result of the perks listed above. As patients continuously receive quick and convenient access to medical services, their trust in the chatbot technology will naturally grow.
- Lower readmission rates. Hospitals can use chatbots for follow-up interactions, ensuring adherence to treatment plans and minimizing readmissions.
Even though most chatbots in medicine can provide a similar degree of practicality, there are functional differences we need to discuss. It’s not that complicated: different types of bots serve different purposes.
Let us expound.
3 Types of medical chatbots
Informative, conversational, and prescriptive — these are the three main categories all healthcare chatbots fall into. They can be built into messaging services like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, or Telegram or come as standalone apps. Here are the qualities that define each type.
This type of chatbot apps provides users with advice and information support. Informative chatbots offer the least intrusive approach, gently easing the patient into the system of medical knowledge. That’s why they’re often the chatbot of choice for mental health support or addiction rehabilitation services.
Informative chatbots usually take the form of pop-ups that appear on health-related resources. Instead of rushing headlong and giving you advice straight away, the bot will start by politely offering its help. “Would you like to know more about drug abuse?” or “Here is some information on Type 1 diabetes you may find useful” are typical conversation starters.
These chatbots are equipped with the simplest AI algorithms designed to distribute information via pre-set responses. The next category is a major step-up.
These health chatbots are better capable of addressing the patient’s concerns since they can answer specific questions. However, the level of their intelligence may vary: some can only reply to clearly formulated information requests, while others can recognize patterns and extract general meaning.
Complex conversational bots use a subclass of machine learning (ML) algorithms we’ve mentioned before — NLP. In order to effectively process speech, they need to be trained prior to release. More advanced apps will continue to learn as they interact with more users.
As the name suggests, these bots take it another step further. In addition to answering the patient’s questions, prescriptive chatbots offer actual medical advice based on the information provided by the user. To do that, the application must employ NLP algorithms and have the latest knowledge base to draw insights from.
Another crucial aspect to consider here are the ethical constraints when consulting on sensitive matters. It’s important to comply with the laws and regulations that govern the area of healthcare covered by the chatbot. AI chatbots for healthcare have multiple applications, but building one comes with responsibilities.
Which brings us to our next point.
Previously, we touched upon some of the typical uses of chatbots. It’s time to dig a little deeper.
Chatbot use cases in healthcare
Let’s take a moment to look at the areas of healthcare where custom medical chatbots have proved their worth. Hopefully, you’ll find a use case that best fits your facility’s profile. Prepare to be surprised because modern chatbots can do a lot.
Assess symptoms and suggest a diagnosis
A chatbot like Buoy packs a powerful symptom checker and can make inferences concerning a possible condition. The site’s disclaimer clearly states that the “tool is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.”
Gather patient data
A medical facility’s desktop or mobile app can contain a simple bot to help collect personal data and/or symptoms from patients. By automating the transfer of the data into EMRs (electronic medical records), a hospital will save resources otherwise spent on manual entry. An important thing to remember here is to follow HIPAA compliance protocols for protected health information (PHI).
Manage insurance inquiries and claims
The medical insurance industry is complex and heavily regulated. The process of filing insurance inquiries and claims is standardized and takes a lot of time to complete. By using data collected by chatbots, insurers and hospitals can work together to quickly process claims and detect fraud.
Doctor appointment chatbot development is gaining traction with many health providers. A chatbot integrated into the IT framework of a hospital can monitor available slots and manage patient appointments with doctors and nurses in a click.
Assist in following treatment plans
According to research by the AMA, about 55% of treatment nonadherence accounts for miscommunication between patients and their health providers. Medical chatbots have the potential to become the missing link, providing necessary information and reminding patients to take medication on time.
Help with medication refills
That’s another area of healthcare that is asking to be automated. A few words with your trusty chatbot, and the renewed prescription is on the way! This feature is especially welcome when developing an online pharmacy app.
Monitor chronic illnesses
Doctors can receive regular automatic updates on the symptoms of their patients’ chronic conditions. All it takes is for the patient to answer a few questions and maybe take a few measurements their chatbot app asks for. An indispensable feature during lockdowns.
Provide mental health support
Woebot is a great example of a mental health support solution that is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and can help users through simple conversations. It’s not a digital therapist per se, only offering assistance and advisory approach, but it’s getting great reviews from users!
Help with emergency response/first aid
Most emergency situations require professional intervention, but there are times when patients can benefit from a quick self-assessment. If the condition is not too severe, a chatbot can help by asking a few simple questions and comparing the answers with the patient’s medical history. A chatbot like that can be part of emergency helper software with broader functionality.
Facilitate post-discharge and rehabilitation care
A New York-based hospital chain, Northwell Health, launched a chatbot to curb its 40% colonoscopy no-show rate for follow-up appointments. Studies suggested that failure to show up for the procedure was predominant among underprivileged patients. The solution delivers data about the exam in a non-intrusive explanatory form and sets reminders.
The same approach can be very effective when it comes to post-surgery rehabilitation: sending reminders to exercise and take medication.
There’s no denying that the wide adoption of chatbot technology in healthcare will produce a long-lasting positive effect. Whether developing a chatbot for a hospital or a medical insurance payer, there are multiple benefits to reap.
In the next section, we’ll tell you more about developing an AI-powered chatbot to improve or augment your services.
Chatbot development for healthcare
The process of building a health chatbot begins by making several strategic choices. We’ll keep it short and sweet, avoiding technical jargon and focusing on the key aspects of creating your chatbot app.
A quick note: embarking on this journey is safer with a team of experienced software developers.
Here is the order we suggest.
Assess your needs and decide on your use cases
Find out where your bottlenecks are and formulate what you’re planning to achieve by adding a chatbot to your system. Do you need to admit patients faster, automate appointment management, or provide additional services? The goals you set now will define the very essence of your new product, as well as the technology it will rely on.
Choose the right type of conversation flow
Many chatbots fail to impress and engage users due to flaws in their conversational pathways. It takes research and rigorous planning to build the right flow. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- The conversation should be cooperative. The bot should always provide relevant answers instead of simply giving out information.
- The chatbot has to take specific context into account. When talking about sensitive issues like mental health, the chatbot’s response needs to be precise but not come across as cold or negative. Finding a tone that resonates with your audience is key for building rapport.
- Keeping the right pace is important. The bot’s replies shouldn’t be too long or overly technical. The app should give the user a chance to ask questions and clarify details.
When you’ve found your chatbot’s voice, move on to growing its heart and soul, so the bot can come alive.
Pick the AI methods to power the bot
Healthcare chatbots use various AI mechanisms to process human speech and respond to it. Below are some of the most typical options:
Pattern matching. It’s the simplest method of comparing the text against pre-saved patterns and choosing the corresponding answer. For this approach to work, your engineers will need to program the bot with the correct answers for exact patterns. If there’s no match, the software will select the closest option or admit defeat.
Machine and Deep Learning algorithms. The most popular options include natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU). AI algorithms use several steps to identify and classify the concepts, actions, context, and intent of the user’s sentences. The real magic happens when these methods start learning using pre-saved datasets or building their own.
Obtain datasets and train the model
Depending on the approach you choose in the previous step, you’ll need to apply different techniques to train the algorithm. Some methods require data that is structured and labeled, while others are capable of making their inferences independently. This phase is fairly complicated and requires technical oversight by engineers versed in AI.
Plan out interactions and controls, then design an appropriate UI
You’ll need to define the user journey, planning ahead for the patient and the clinician side. Remember, both may qualify as users of your chatbot app, as doctors will probably need to make decisions based on the extracted data.
The interface of your chatbot can be a make it or break it moment for user engagement. Once again, go back to the roots and think of your target audience in the context of their needs. Would they rather talk to a funny-looking robot or a gray-haired doctor? How should the chat pop up — with or without sound? What font should you use? Getting the user interface right is a process.
Build the backend to support your product’s smooth operation
The least exciting phase of the development, this one is all about technicalities. Should you go with Backend as a Service (BaaS) or build it from scratch? If so, what tech stack would you use? What security mechanisms do you need to implement to safeguard the patient’s and your proprietary data? What’s the right database format and structure?
Once again, answering these and many other questions concerning the backend of your software requires a certain level of expertise. Make sure you have access to such experts before you run into problems.
Start building a health chatbot with us today
There are no two ways about it: the future of chatbots in healthcare looks bright.
Of course, no algorithm can compare to the experience of a doctor that’s earned in the field or the level of care a trained nurse can provide. However, chatbot solutions for the healthcare industry can effectively complement the work of medical professionals, saving time and adding value where it really counts. The algorithms are learning, and more data is being added to repositories every day. Ignoring this upward movement would be unwise.
Acropolium is ready to help you create a chatbot for telemedicine, mental health support, or insurance processing. Skilled in mHealth app development, our engineers can utilize pre-designed building blocks or create custom medical chatbots from the ground up.
We’ve done it all: from an addiction recovery app to a mobile app for a dental clinic and even a pharmacy kiosk solution. When you place your trust in us, you can expect the dividends of high quality, paid out on schedule.