How Medical Chatbots Can Be Used in the Healthcare Industry

Senior Business Analyst and Healthcare IT Consultant, ScienceSoft

7 min read

Editor’s note: Alena shows 5 ways healthcare chatbots can win the competition in the healthcare industry and describes how to mitigate the development and implementation risks. If you consider implementing a chatbot in your healthcare software, read on and explore ScienceSoft’s medical app development offering for further detail.

Today, patients need a convenient way to stay in touch with their care providers at any time, and care providers need ways to save time for their physicians and nurses, which becomes especially relevant in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chatbots can help both sides with their needs and increase the total quality and availability of care. In this article, I provide an overview of how medical chatbots can be used in the healthcare industry, mention some challenges chatbot developers may face, and show that this seemingly risky investment is worth the effort.

Chatbots in healthcare

Providing informational support

As my practice shows, most healthcare organizations prefer using chatbots for basic informational support of their patients. The research by Accenture confirms my observation by stating that 64% of care providers already employ such chatbots. I think the main reason for their success is that this technology and functionality manage to provide convenience and time-saving for both medical staff and patients. At any time, users can ask chatbots about a clinic address, telephone numbers, visiting hours, etc. without disturbing support personnel and conducting time-consuming searches on the patient portal.

Tips from ScienceSoft

The technology behind informational chatbots may seem relatively easy to use. Still, as with any AI-based software, you may want to keep an eye on how it works after launch and spot opportunities for improvement. For that, you will need to set up quality metrics. For example, your employees responsible for patient engagement can measure user satisfaction by asking patients to leave feedback on chatbot performance or periodically verifying chatbots on a random dialog sample to improve the technology.

Scheduling appointments

The chatbot technology can make the process of appointment scheduling as quick and convenient as possible for patients. To make an appointment with a doctor, patients select available dates and time slots with the bot and confirm their choice. Patients can make an appointment with an available doctor right when the first symptoms appear. As for healthcare organizations, using chatbots for scheduling, they can reduce the staff’s workload and eliminate the possibility of “overbooking” due to a human error.

Tips from ScienceSoft

You need to make sure that your chatbot can be easily integrated with HIS (hospital information system) or PM (Practice Management System) of healthcare providers for the chatbot to have access to the calendar with the schedule and make records there.

Collecting patient information for caregivers

Business Insider Intelligence estimates that up to 73% of symptom checking and healthcare administrative tasks can be automated by AI, and the adoption of chatbots can save the healthcare sector around $11 billion annually by 2023. Chatbots can make this huge difference by collecting patients' information, such as name, address, insurance details, and symptoms. A symptom checker chatbot can help medical staff monitor patients' state and perform diagnostic procedures, while collecting patients’ personal info can facilitate, for example, patient admission activities.

As a result, assisting with symptom checking and administrative tasks, healthcare chatbots reduce the average time of a patient’s visit and allow remote preliminary symptom check, while relieving physicians and nurses of these tasks and building up patient satisfaction.

Tips from ScienceSoft

To make the gathered patient information available to a doctor, a chatbot should be integrated with EHR of a healthcare organization, where the chatbot sends this data. To protect patient information, you need to provide for high-level cybersecurity of your chatbot. At ScienceSoft, we recommend our customers employ security measures before the chatbot launch (data anonymization, where possible, data encryption, user authentication mechanisms, etc.) and perform regular vulnerability assessment and penetration testing of the chatbot system after the release.

Make Your Medical Chatbot Secure with ScienceSoft

ScienceSoft’s healthcare IT consultants will help you choose the relevant package of measures to ensure that your healthcare chatbot collects health information and provides it to caregivers securely.

Providing medical assistance to patients

My professional experience shows that chatbots help patients manage their own care and increase their engagement in the treatment process. Chatbots can become a personal nurse for patients reminding them to take medications, controlling their diet or even providing a short consultation on their symptoms when integrated with a medical database. Also, if a chatbot is connected to a wearable device, it can use collected information to advise patients on certain actions or notify a doctor in case of an emergency. For example, if a healthcare chatbot is integrated with a wearable glucometer, it can automatically suggest a user inject insulin or call a doctor if an abnormal blood sugar level is detected. It frees up healthcare providers’ recourses and speeds up the process of getting medical help.

Tips from ScienceSoft

I understand that you may feel cautious about healthcare chatbot development and think about possible chatbot malfunctioning when providing medical assistance to patients. No wonder, even a few cases of a chatbot's irrelevant behavior may cause a reduction in care quality and harm patients’ health. Not to let that happen, we recommend resorting to the risk-based approach. All actions that a chatbot can perform are divided into two types – low-risk actions and high-risk actions. Providing medical assistance should be considered as a high-risk task that can be fulfilled only after verification by a human. By comparison, tasks like providing information support or scheduling e-visits can be considered as high-certainty ones and can be performed without a human.

Assistance in prescription refilling/renewal

Chatbots can become a feature of a telehealth app and be used for remote prescription refilling and renewal (it’s especially helpful for patients with chronic diseases). To refill a prescription, a patient types a quick request into a chat window. After personal data (name, social security number, birthday, etc.) and a prescription number are confirmed, the chatbot sends a refill request to a doctor, who makes a final decision, and notifies the patient when it is ready. If it appears that there are no more refills available or prescription has expired, the chatbot asks the patient to choose time for an e-visit to renew the prescription.

As for physicians, they can use chatbots integrated to EHR system for ensuring compatibility of the drugs prescribed with other medicine the patients take, the dosage for the particular patient, possible alternatives to the drugs, etc.

Tips from ScienceSoft

I am not surprised that you may doubt chatbot safety to provide guidance on prescribed drugs and prescription refilling/renewal. At ScienceSoft, we understand that errors are costly in the healthcare industry, so we recommend opting for iterative development. Thus, after the first iteration, a chatbot can give the opportunity to patients to leave requests for renewals only. In the next iterations, the scope of operations can be expanded after necessary chatbot training. And this process continues until the chatbot is reliable enough to be used for the full process of remote prescription refilling/renewal and obtain all requested features.

Chatbots are part of effective healthcare

I believe that the chatbot technology has great potential, and it is an integral part of the effective healthcare industry. Still, the development and implementation of healthcare chatbots can be a complicated task that demands expertise in various technological aspects, including AI and natural language processing, in particular, cybersecurity, etc. So, if you are planning to develop a medical chatbot and looking for competent assistance, ScienceSoft’s healthcare IT team will be glad to help you.

Looking for a solution to your healthcare IT challenge? Our experienced healthcare consultants are here to help.