Conversational AI is no new concept for many of us. Many websites and mobile applications are now using chatbots to communicate with clients, answer their frequent queries, take feedback, and so on. Many of us use Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google Home where we converse with artificially intelligent software. But, most of these interactions are specific to industries like education, marketing, e-commerce, and social media. Imagine what it would be like using conversational artificial intelligence in the healthcare industry.
We are already experiencing a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers globally. The situation of the pandemic has made things worse and chaotic. At such times, technology has made its way in the healthcare sector making things easier for all of us. Let us see how conversational AI is helping doctors and patients and what could be expected in the future.
#1 Booking doctor appointments
Conversational AI could be a perfect solution for booking doctor’s appointments. In general, we book an appointment by calling the doctor’s customer care or through their website. Some doctors also book appointments over text messages. While at certain clinics patients have to visit the clinic to make an appointment and wait for hours for their chance to consult the doctor. However, due to a shortage of employees or customer care executives, hospitals and clinics often face problems in booking doctor appointments.
Conversational AI can handle this task with accuracy and speed. Doctors and hospitals can use chatbots to book appointments directly. Patients could be given a chance to check the physicians available in a hospital or clinic and then can obtain a free slot to book their appointment. This way, appointment booking can become more transparent. Patients can book their appointments from home and as per their schedule and convenience.
#2 Answering frequently asked questions
Many times when a patient wants to visit a doctor, they have certain basic questions in mind such as information about the doctors, timings when the doctor attends the patients, how to book appointments, and so on. Similarly, when a patient has been admitted to a hospital their family members have some common concerns like how to book a private room, whether there will be laundry services, what are the visiting hours, the procedure to claim insurance services, etc.
Conversational AI can help in answering all such queries of patients and their family members in just a few seconds. This way patients would no longer have to wait in queues to find answers to all their queries or frequently call the customer care of the healthcare centre. It is a time-saving and money-saving option.
#3 Accessing doctors in urgent situations
Conversational AI can provide all the information about the patient to the doctor in just a few seconds. In case of emergencies, this information could help doctors a lot. The AI software might highlight the symptoms of serious health concerns to the doctors thereby easing their task. According to one study, doctors used AI algorithms to detect health problems in patients early based on their present symptoms and generic history. The early detection alert provided 87.6% accuracy in a diagnosis and prognosis evaluation.
Conversational AI could help in taking note of a patient’s present symptoms and find connections to their medical history, assess the patterns, and provide a diagnosis. However, developing such a technology would require great amounts of research and development but once invented, such technology would be extremely helpful to patients and doctors.
#4 Prioritising emergency cases
There could be cases where patients need immediate treatment. At such times their cases need to be escalated to the doctors instantly. A step-by-sep diagnostic tool could help in detecting such symptoms in the patients and arrange an ambulance service.
Such conversational AI tools are most needed in the pandemic situation prevailing all around the globe. Hospitals and other health care facilities were quite swamped during the peak pandemic period. Many hospitals could not admit more patients which led to more chaos as patients had to commute from one hospital to another in search of treatment. To overcome such situations we can use artificially intelligent bots to collect patient’s data, analyze their symptoms and instruct them on the course of action.
#5 Telemedicine bots for remotely located patients
Telemedicine technology is the need of the hour. It means remote diagnosis of a patient using telecommunication. Telemedicine chatbots can help patients located remotely to seek the diagnosis from their homes until an emergency situation arises. These bots would record the patient’s symptoms, answer their basic queries and escalate their cases to the doctors. Advanced bots could have the capability to provide a diagnosis to a patient thereby saving the time of both physicians and patients.
This way we can optimise the healthcare support systems at a cost-effective price. OneRemission is an AI application that helps cancer patients, survivors and supporters learn more about cancer and post-cancer health care. Patients can find information about post-cancer nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management with this application. In case a patient needs the urgent help of a doctor, the app provides the facility to consult with an online oncologist 24/7.
#6 Maintaining patient information
In situations where there is a scarcity of doctors and healthcare workers, conversational AI can help in maintaining every patient’s medical information. Generally, when the number of patients increases, it becomes difficult for just a group of people to maintain their records on a computer or in books. There could be a chance of missed information or sometimes they might end up adding the information under the wrong patient.
Whenever a patient checks into a hospital, conversational AI software can be used to take note of all the important information about them to prevent any mistakes in the future. Nurses, doctors and healthcare workers can use conversational AI to identify symptoms of a patient promptly and categorise them based on priority. Then, they can schedule appointments accordingly.
#7 Digital humans providing support to patients
According to DigitalHumans, by 2026, the healthcare industry in the US alone will need 11.6 million workers to meet the demand for new clinicians. To help provide quality care and assistance to patients with warmth, empathy and humanity, DigitalHumans has created UneeQ. It is an artificially intelligent digital healthcare solution that manages prescriptions, provides diet recommendations, or simply checks how a patient is feeling. The application works 24/7, includes over 40 languages and can include the human-like emotions of empathy, concern and companionship.
This is just one example. We need more digital healthcare solutions like this to help the patients and healthcare practitioners. This way we will be able to enhance the healthcare system globally by providing correct information to every patient and coping up with the shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff.
What are the main challenges in implementing conversational AI in Healthcare?
#1 Categorising and labelling data
One of the major challenges that technology experts might feel in making the transition to conversational AI could be data. For years, the healthcare system has given more emphasis on a human to human interaction. To prepare a conversational AI that can answer all kinds of queries of the patients, monitors the symptoms and provides a diagnosis or identify the case of emergency, would require a lot of data.
#2 Communication changes frequently
Many different factors can affect the communication between a machine and a human such as usage of slang, language, dialect, accents. Conversational AI needs to be updated regularly to understand how people communicate. It also needs to be programmed on what to do when the patient’s words are not clear, or they have a noisy background.
#3 Privacy and security of data
Storing every patient’s medical history is a task of great responsibility. Conversational AI must be designed in such a way that no data can be stolen from it. The patient data must be kept confidential and great care should be taken while transferring the information from one place to other.
#4 Ensuring people adopt technology
Another major challenge that could be faced by doctors and healthcare practitioners is making people aware of the conversational AI tools and how to use them for their benefit. Not many people might be comfortable with using conversational AI in the first place.
#5 Inaccurate responses can have adverse effects
Using conversational AI in the field of marketing, education or finance might not have adverse effects like loss of life if a mistake occurs. But, in the case of the healthcare sector, one mistake or misinterpretation could lead to adverse situations. So chatbots must be designed to ensure high accuracy and knowledge-based decisions.
It is just the beginning of Conversational AI in the healthcare system. While many healthcare centres and practitioners have started using AI to their advantage, many are yet to be introduced to this exquisite feature of technology. In this article, we discussed how conversational AI can help save time and money for patients by:
- Booking doctor appointments from home and as per their convenience
- Answering the frequently asked questions of the patients
- Providing the opportunity to access doctors in emergencies
- Prioritising their emergency cases
- Providing them with a diagnosis when they are located at a remote place
- Maintaining their information from the moment they check in a clinic or a hospital
- Providing them support to cope up with the disease and stay healthy
We also discussed the potential challenges that could arise while implementing conversational AI in the healthcare system such as protection of patient information, categorising and labelling of data, adapting to the changes in communication, and bringing awareness about conversational AI in healthcare.
Many people might start to feel that in this age of technology, there is no need for a doctor or other healthcare worker until an emergency arises. They believe that with the integration of AI and healthcare, the importance of doctors would decrease. However, it is not true at all. Technology can provide accuracy and to a certain extent human-like emotions such as compassion, empathy and companionship. But, it might not be able to replace the expertise, intuition, human connection and efficiency of doctors and healthcare workers. Let us revolutionise healthcare for our betterment and well-being without considering technology a threat.