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The Promise and Future of Chatbot in Healthcare

Healthcare is a very personal, social discipline. Unfortunately, most doctors have incredibly busy schedules. They can’t be on hand to meet with patients as often as they’d like, to do things from answering questions promptly to sending a message of reassurance.

Frustrated patients are thus turning to the Internet for answers. This has its own issues, namely the lack of a personal approach that’s often needed when dealing with a sensitive topic like health.

Chatbots are emerging to fill this gap between personal and technical support. What’s a chatbot? These are programs capable of simulating conversations with people through images or text.

The first kind of chatbot was built to work based on pre-programmed keywords. In healthcare, for example, when a patient interacts with the chatbot on a medical computer and mentions one of those keywords, the bot will spit out a pre-designated answer it was programmed to give in response to that keyword.

Simple chatbots are very easy to implement because of their pre-formulated responses. Unfortunately, if a keyword isn’t mentioned, the chatbot can’t respond. This limits the kinds of responses they’re able to give which can prove very frustrating to patients.

Smart chatbots are a leap above simple ones. They use artificial intelligence, or AI, to actively learn and craft responses based on previous conversations. Because of this, they can be built to provide much more sophisticated, nuanced answers. Even better, the more they interact, the better they get at answering questions. Studies have shown patients respond to smart chatbots far more readily than with simple ones. This is important in medicine, where more information can help doctors narrow down patients’ real medical problems.

Provide patient education. As mentioned earlier, doctors aren’t always available to answer questions due to their heavy workload. To aid them, chatbots have been deployed to deliver the personal touch a google search can’t. CancerChatbot by Csource, for example, is designed to respond to cancer patient inquiries by answering questions with empathy and tact. This includes reaching out to support groups it feels may help the patient.

Act as clinician assistants. Chatbots aren’t just for patients. Doctors use them, too. One can ask the chatbot SafedrugBot, for example, for information on a specific drug. They simply type the commands into the bot, which then responds with details like active ingredients within a drug, and even alternatives that may be more effective for the patient’s conditions.

For data gathering. Finally, there are chatbots that act like digital nurses. They guide patients via text and speech on performing tasks. These can be anything from how the patient reads their blood pressure to a How-to in scheduling appointments with the doctors. The chatbot may even schedule the appointment itself depending on the patient’s responses.

To many, the best health care is that of a doctor not only treating their patient’s medical issues, but doing so in a personable manner. However, many physicians cannot do so easily due to their workloads. Technologies like chatbots have emerged to automate many healthcare functions like patient monitoring but do so with a personal, almost empathic, touch.