How are Chatbots Boosting Patient-Doctor Communication?

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Isn’t it amazing that modern chatbots can make your life so much easier and improve your health status? Chatbots are a special type of software built with machine learning (ML) algorithms such as natural language processing (NLP) to help patients establish a faster connection with the right doctor. According to patients’ input, e.g. described symptoms, chatbots can successfully provide instant assistants or alleviate their chronic health conditions by sending alerts about daily pills intake. 

From my experience working in a bespoke software development company, I learned the value of innovative technological solutions that change the way we communicate in the digital era. Especially during the Codvid-19 pandemic telehealth is not a far-fetched dream anymore. Instead, online healthcare services have proven invaluable as our world still goes through an unprecedented health crisis. To ensure they keep safe social distance, patients continuously seek medical help through online platforms. 

Though the increased popularity of chatbots still raises concerns about data privacy and platform reliability, nowadays, chatbots are undoubtedly a useful tool to connect medical professionals and healthcare institutions with patients. Let’s see exactly how do they help boost communication the patient-doctor communication.

Chatbots enhance self-assessment 

Medical professionals аre convinced that one of the most significant challenges healthcare faces nowadays is to create new, meaningful doctor-patient communication and use modern digital tech tools for this purpose. Immediately after the pandemic outbreak, the need for remote conversational platforms was more than evident. During the first global wave of the pandemic, hospitals were overwhelmed with people worried about having the dangerous virus.

Now, on the verge of the third-wave and an approaching new UK variant that is even more contagious, the need for adequate self-assessment persists. Chatbots serve as a frontline for providing a gateway that effectively captures current symptoms and answers common questions regarding health concerns. In fact, a US medical centre that adopted chatbots as additional support reports that doing so helped staff efficiently prioritise intake processes and reduced inbound call volume by 25%, which also contributed to the peace of mind of concerned patients.

Chatbots boost patients’ engagement

Another major challenge for the health industry is to improve patients’ engagement. Engagement, as well as cooperation, are crucial factors during treatment on the way for their recovery. To do so, healthcare providers need to continually think out of the box and reimagine ways to build lasting, meaningful relationships with their patients. One such innovative opportunity for boosting patients’ engagement is though chatbots. On the one hand, tech solutions provide countless opportunities to scale a company even during lockdowns. On the other hand, the main focus of healthcare will always be preserving health. 

As a society, we depend heavily on digital technologies, and it gets understandable that consumers want simple, fast and reliable solutions. The market expectations about good quality service are also changing. Patients wish for personalised healthcare, immediate assistance and attention to details. Many available chatbot tools are integrated with in-house ERH (electronic health record) and successfully keep track of personal medical history, past prescriptions etc. Conversational AI further boosts patients’ engagement by speaking a message from the doctor, composing a text or easily navigating and sharing lab results and vital medical data.

Chatbots promote self-disclosure

In 1997, Schneiderman published a book on designing a better UI for human-computer interaction (HCI). He identifies five main styles of HCI which include: direct manipulation, menu selection, form fill-in, command language and Natural Language Processing. NLP is the foundation, on which the communication between a human being and a machine is built. But what does this have to do with boosting the communication with the doctor? It may not be evident at first, but doctors can obtain invaluable information about their patients when chatbots ask the questions on their behalf.

Recent research from Lucas et al. (2014) found out that the patients’ eagerness to disclose personal information relevant to their health status increases when a virtual human is used in clinical interviews. This finding may sound surprising but actually makes sense: the study reports that when they communicate with a real person, patients deliberately make efforts to represent themselves in such a way, so that doctors will perceive them positively, e.g. they may lie about alcohol consumption, exercising or taking supplements. This may prove a critical use case for chatbots – to collect information about new patients’ medical history and then send it to doctors.

Transparency and privacy 

Probably one of the biggest concerns of modern patients who use telehealth services revolves around preserving their privacy. If they want to remain competitive businesses, need to provide impeccable privacy protection and data handling transparency for their patients. A newly-designed white-label communication tool from the collaboration of Pryv and Dreamix helps healthcare providers remain transparent about data privacy and boost their trustworthiness. 

The software solution has adopted a privacy-by-design approach and has embedded consent management tools that are clear for patients. They receive a guarantee that their sensitive medical data is being handled following the strictest industry-specific and general data collection regulations, including HIPAA, Swiss DPA, GDPR. If you’re in the healthcare business and want to develop an innovative app, in the EU there are new regulations such ePrivacy Regulation and the Medical Device Regulation (MDR) that are expected to be enforced in the near future. By all means, will businesses have to make sure their digital systems and solutions are compliant to those new regulations if they want to stay relevant and competitive in an era with increased digital consumption and high reliance on digital technologies?

Less missed appointments 

Even though technologies can act as a bridge between doctor and patient, there are still situations that require a face-to-face meeting. In the past, patients didn’t have the opportunity to choose our doctor based on ratings or reviews. Now, IT allows us to make an informed decision about who to trust via thorough previous research, and it is effortless to schedule an appointment. Chatbots are perfect for scheduling appointments with medical specialists, but their capabilities do not end there.

A streamlined scheduling system allows patients to synchronise their appointment with their Google or iOS calendar and receive notifications about scheduled events. This step exponentially increases the chance of patients showing up. A step further is to think about the so-called “no-shows”. Missed doctor appointments account for money and time loss, which can impact businesses in this sector. Healthcare providers can consider introducing fees in case of missed appointments and implement this information as a chatbot feature directly before the final confirmation. Also, every business needs to decide which excuses are appropriate and which ones are considered reasonable for missing appointments.

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