If there’s one segment across the business world that will cause consternation and questions about the use of chatbots, it is in the medical profession. Already, there have been probing documentaries, harsh press pieces and professional concern about their use. But, as with every other area of business, bots are here to stay and a much-needed asset for resource-constrained medical professionals.
Any business looking to promote its bot likes to say positive things about it, but bordering on hyperbole can get you into trouble. Look at the example of Babylon GP, the minute it was quoted as being better than a real GP (in its exam pass rate), medical professionals and researchers were in hot pursuit. Since then, the services provided by the company have been called into question, and it has only recently had the restrictions on its GP at Hand app lifted.
As part of a wider investigation into AI and bots in medicine, BBC’s Horizon (regional viewing restrictions many apply) took a close look too. If the BBC is investigating, then millions of people who had never heard of a bot before will now be a little more aware, and any negative news will make them nervous.
The program had behind-the-scenes access to Babylon Health, which persuaded 30,000 Londoners to register for an NHS ‘digital first’ service, where patients could discuss symptoms with an AI chatbot and see a doctor in minutes 24/7 via their phone.
Whatever the bumpy road for the early years, the sheer numbers of patients, weight of queries and lack of staff means this is what medicine will look like in the near future.
The better the bot, the happier the patient
On the positive side, the useful bots continue to roll out, with UCB launching a Parkinson’s Disease AI voice chatbot in its new app. Called April, she provides sufferers and their families with April information about Parkinson’s while being designed to communicate with patients who may have speech and dexterity challenges.
Other bots around the world are helping patients book appointments, get information and learn how to cope with conditions. As nations move to electronic medical records and people get used to managing their care via smartphone apps, AI and bots will become a familiar part of that landscape.
At their simplest, bots could help people refill prescriptions automatically, book appointments at the dentist or doctor. At the cutting edge, AI is already helping analyse medical imagery for disease. As they learn, AIs make fewer mistakes than humans and can scan X-Rays or MRIs far faster than people.
Practices need to highlight these benefits, hidden away in the lab, to help encourage people to accept the typical concierge bot and other advances. Or, as we move to AI-based doctor appointment bots vendors need to ensure they provide a holding-hand approach at every step to help users get over any concerns.
Bots and services will also need hooks to act in unison, providing a joined-up approach to health. Where appropriate and the law allows, details need to be shared between health insurers, doctors, dentists, third-party clinics and others. Possibly a use case for blockchain, customers will want to know their data is treated confidentially, with vertical solutions like Apotheka trying to offer a one-stop shop for healthcare providers.
The company recently launched Claudius AI to help patients and physicians manage a wide range of data including: pre-diagnosis evaluations, scheduling consultation and follow up appointments; plus telehealth private sessions between patients and physicians among other things. The technology saves time, money and streamlines communication across a medical network.
Trust your doctor, and the bot
Ultimately, medical AI and bots won’t succeed through PR efforts shouting that they are better than doctors. Instead, bots need to prove over years of effort that they can work alongside medical experts, providing useful services, care information and advice. That way people will learn to trust them, as they become another part of patient services, along with apps, dispensers and other devices that get people through their day.
Yes, there will be more headlines in the future where the bot makes mistakes, and they will get more attention than in a person makes the same mistake. But, until the balance between the inevitable mistakes reaches par for people or droids, AI and bot creators need to focus on getting the product right, both in terms of tone and answers, rather than worrying about bragging rights compared to the actual professionals.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.