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emerging technology

How implementing a medical chatbot can improve patient care & practice efficiency

Gibson Toombs
March 8th, 2021
8 MINUTE READ

Chatbots have come a long way since 1966 when the first chatbot was invented in an MIT lab by Joseph Wizenbaum. He named the Chatbot “ELIZA” and programmed it to act as a psychotherapist. 

Today, 40% of millennials engage with chatbots on a daily basis. Organizations across all industries have adopted chatbot technology to improve communication with their customers, streamline tasks, cut costs, and ultimately increase revenue. In the healthcare industry, patients and doctors interact with chatbots for a wide variety of reasons, from receiving medical advice to managing medications. 

In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about medical chatbots, including their different uses, why they’ve become so popular among healthcare organizations, and how to implement them for your practice. 

What is a medical chatbot?

A medical chatbot is a piece of software designed to assist patients, as well as therapists, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals with various tasks. The goal is to facilitate a human-like conversation between the user and the bot—through either textual or auditory methods. 

Acting as the first point of contact for a healthcare practice, chatbots can communicate with users or patients in situations where a human doesn’t necessarily need to be present. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), they can answer frequently asked questions, connect patients to doctors, help users navigate through the organization’s website, and so on. By employing a chatbot to handle repetitive, time-consuming tasks, your practice can save significant time and resources in the long run. 

Uses for medical chatbots

As chatbot technology has advanced over the past decade, the functions and capabilities of medical chatbots have expanded to facilitate many duties that used to require a doctor, nurse, secretary, or other healthcare workers. Now, depending on its purpose, a healthcare chatbot will fall into one of three categories: informative, conversational, or prescriptive. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Informative

Informative chatbots are designed to deliver helpful information and customer support to users—usually in the form of automated pop-ups and notifications. These are often implemented on websites that provide news around physical and mental health topics, such as WebMD. For example, if you’re reading an article about drug addiction, a bot may pop up with a message like, “Are you struggling with drug addiction? Speak with one of our addiction specialists today.” 

Conversational 

With the goal of mimicking a real-life conversation, conversational chatbots provide natural responses to user inquiries. Whether a patient is trying to figure out their doctor’s availability, needs to pay a bill, or has basic medical questions, the bot should be able to help them using natural language processing—an AI application that allows computers to understand and interpret human language. While some users will inevitably prefer speaking to a real healthcare professional, studies show that 63% of people are willing to share their most sensitive information with chatbots.

Prescriptive

Prescriptive and conversational chatbots are similar in that they both facilitate human-like conversations via voice or text. However, prescriptive chatbots go one step further by offering therapeutic solutions to users. For instance, those who suffer from anxiety and mood disorders can reach out to these bots during difficult times, and help themselves by engaging in a restorative conversation. It’s important to note that while prescriptive bots can offer advice and encouragement to users, they cannot prescribe any drugs or medications. 

How a medical chatbot can improve your practice

Medical chatbot software can be customized to solve specific problems, improve patient satisfaction, and increase the overall efficiency of your practice. Here are some of the most common reasons why healthcare professionals implement chatbots: 

Greater scalability

As mentioned before, delegating certain tasks to medical chatbots can give you and your employees more time to focus on higher-priority objectives, like launching new services, running patient retention campaigns, modernizing your practice’s software, and so on. Plus, with AI handling much of the increasing support requests from patients and users, you’re hiring needs won’t be as costly. In fact, businesses that employ chatbots can save up to 30% on customer service costs. This allows you to invest more money into growing your practice—without being slowed down by monotonous work in the process.

Better responsiveness 

Another great thing about chatbots is that they never take breaks, go on vacation, or sleep. They are available to connect with users 24/7, which solves a problem that almost all organizations deal with to some degree. The top predicted use case of a chatbot is providing quick answers to a user’s questions. If it’s the middle of the night and one of your patients needs information about their medication, they can go online—via their desktop computer or mobile device—and inquire with your chatbot. For the patient, this is much quicker and easier than sending an email or leaving a voicemail with your secretary and then waiting for a response.

Easier appointment scheduling

Did you know that 20% of patients report not being able to easily schedule appointments with their doctor? If your practice still requires patients to make appointments over the phone, it’s time for an upgrade. Medical chatbots can integrate with appointment scheduling software to automate this entire process—so users can log onto your website or app, and communicate with your chatbot to find a time that works for both parties. 

More patient feedback

Chatbots can be a great channel for collecting feedback from users and patients. Everything from platform navigation issues to customer service complaints can be gathered and stored in an organized manner. This allows you and your team to better identify pain points and areas for improvement. 

Streamlined billing 

Mailing invoices to patients and keeping track of payments can require a lot of time and resources. Rather than hiring a real employee to administer this process, you can implement a chatbot programmed to send electronic invoices to patients, collect payment, and send updates to those with outstanding charges. 

Improved search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO—the practice of increasing organic traffic to your website via search engine results—can be greatly improved with the help of chatbots. There are a number of factors that Google’s algorithm takes into consideration when ranking sites in search engine results pages (SERPs), one of which is dwell time—or the number of time users spend on your site. Sites that adopt chatbots experience a 40% increase in their time-on-page metric—and greater dwell time equals greater SEO performance. 

Reduced costs

The amount of money your practice can save by implementing a healthcare chatbot cannot be overstated. By streamlining administrative tasks, you’ll save money on hiring new employees and covering overtime pay. Experts predict that by the year 2022, chatbots in healthcare will result in cost savings of up to $3.6 billion globally. 

Innovative medical chatbots in 2021

Because it’s still young, the healthcare chatbot industry is constantly evolving. Here are some of the most innovative chatbots being embraced across the healthcare industry today:

Healthily 

Healthily allows users that are feeling ill to input their symptoms and receive a likely diagnosis. The app also provides advice for treating symptoms, and the ability to book appointments with doctors. 

Forksy

Acting as a virtual nutrition coach, Forksy helps with tracking calories and improving eating habits. Users can enter food items, and the app will respond with the calories each item contains. It can also answer basic questions related to nutrition, dieting, and weight-loss. 

CancerChatbot

Designed for cancer patients, as well as their friends and family, CancerChatbot provides detailed information about cancer and related topics. The app is able to answer user questions and provide suggestions by fetching trustworthy data from an extensive database. 

Babylon Health

Babylon Health connects patients with doctors via live video chats and text messages. The preliminary consultation process, where the user provides basic personal health information, is powered entirely by AI. The app also includes a symptom checker to help provide users with medical insight.

SafeDrugBot

For doctors that regularly prescribe medication to patients, specifically breastfeeding mothers, the SafeDrugBot app can be very useful. With access to a vast drug database, the app provides up-to-date information regarding various treatment methods, suggested dosages, and side effects.  

How to implement a medical chatbot

Once you’ve decided to invest in chatbot software for your practice, many questions present themselves. Where do you start? Who will lead the project? How long will the implementation process take? What kind of ROI can you expect? 

As someone who is new to this kind of technology, you’ll want to team up with user experience (UX) design experts who are knowledgeable in developing and implementing medical chatbots. In the meantime, here’s a basic checklist for adding chatbots to your healthcare practice: 

Define goals

The first step is figuring out which problems you want your chatbot to solve. This could mean cutting costs, improving your practice’s responsiveness to patients, streamlining your billing process, etc. 

Evaluate options

There are many different platforms for building customized chatbots. Some of the most popular include Intercom, Drift, WotNot, and LivePerson. When picking software, make sure to ask about demo opportunities, the system for future customer support and maintenance, and integration capabilities—or how you can connect the software to your existing CRM and other internal tools. 

Create a launch plan

Once all the details have been sorted out, put together a plan for getting your new chatbot up and running. Make sure your patients, staff, and associates are up-to-date on any new processes and conduct any necessary training. It’s also important to ensure that the implementation doesn’t result in website downtime or bugs. 

Wrapping up

Medical chatbots can help physicians, dentists, therapists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals improve their relationships with patients and increase the overall efficiency of their practice. For this reason, the healthcare chatbots market is expected to be worth $703.2 billion by the year 2025. 

When you’re ready to add chatbots or other digital solutions to your practice, Codal would love to work with you. We’re a UX design and web development agency with over a decade of experience serving healthcare organizations. With market-tested strategies and state-of-the-art technology, we’ll guide you through the process of implementing chatbot technology to automate processes, cut costs, and amplify your practice’s digital presence. 

If you’re interested in learning more about chatbots and other innovative technologies in the healthcare industry, reach out to Codal today!

Gibson Toombs
AUTHOR

Gibson Toombs

Gibson Toombs is a Technical Content Writer at Codal. His writing career began in 2015 after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Since then, he has worked on many projects, covering a wide range of technical topics, from solar energy to cybersecurity. When he’s not taking complex ideas and turning them into easily-digestible pieces of content, Gibson can be found playing guitar and writing songs at his apartment in Chicago.

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