Conversational AI in Healthcare: What Comes Next?

The pandemic has certainly changed the trajectory of the healthcare industry. Conversational AI has forever altered traditional healthcare operations.

Conversational AI has been making a significant impact across various fields for several years now. Still, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth, and conversational AI-powered bots are changing the way we see healthcare. Everything related to the healthcare field has been altered in some way by the pandemic, including how providers engage with patients, healthcare visits, and more. 

These changes have brought a surge in the use of conversational AI in healthcare. Whether companies incorporate conversational AI bots, virtual assistants, wearables, or care bots (a.k.a. companion robots), AI is making waves. With this addition and integration of conversational AI, workflows, productivity, and outcomes have been improving. 

AI is expected to continue to rise in use and popularity over the next few years. According to Businesswire, the AI healthcare sector is expected to grow from $6.1 billion in 2021 to $39.5 billion in 2026, a profound compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.3%. 

As we begin to enter into a "new normal" of the healthcare industry, let's take a look at what you can expect.

There is No Going Back Now

There will likely be no succession of this "new normal". Telehealth and virtual visits are likely here to stay. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for a technological revolution across industries and has changed the way things are done, especially in the healthcare industry.

Across the globe, the healthcare industry has incorporated conversational AI to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. One example of a hugely utilized conversational AI bot is from the CDC and operates various contact-tracing tools. According to a survey conducted by Healthcare IT News, the number of medical corporations that are actively using or will soon be using conversational AI has doubled since March 2020. 

The survey also found that confidence in AI within medicine has also increased dramatically. Two-thirds of survey participants said they would trust AI technology to process their medical records, and 62% said they would trust intelligent technology to analyze various screenings and diagnostics.

With healthcare workers and organizations putting their trust in AI, it stays throughout the industry. It is just a matter of finding the best places to be utilized and which operations it can significantly benefit from.

Complete Healthcare Adoption Will Be a Slow Burn (For Now)

The healthcare industry is slightly behind in the adoption of conversational AI. Other industries like financial services, telecom, or retail, have been utilizing and benefiting from conversational AI for several years. In fact, in the 2019-20 period, organizational spending on conversational AI increased nearly 80%, primarily by the industries mentioned previously. 

While AI has played many roles since the onset of the pandemic, the role of "doctor" is not one of them; instead, it has played a supportive role for doctors. This role has taken many forms over the past couple of years, most notably in the role of vaccine manufacturing and rollout. Pfizer utilized conversational AI during their vaccine rollout and got lots of feedback through their platform. 

Many consumers are comfortable interacting with conversational AI and AI when contributing to research, contributing to a safer, healthier, more sanitary environment, and many are comfortable continuing the usage after the pandemic subsides. However, this is still considering AI in a supportive role and not the main healthcare character. 

Overall, AI has helped keep the industry running effectively without overstepping up to this point. This kind of supportive role is what is needed before the AI industry makes giant leaps in healthcare and puts off fearful consumers. For AI to succeed further in the healthcare industry on a long-term level, consumer comfort, trust, and confidence must be clear and of the utmost priority. It is crucial for technology giants and healthcare providers to tread lightly when further integrating and adopting new conversational AI and AI-powered operations. Gain feedback from your patients and consumers and determine their comfortability levels before adopting new technologies and processes all at once. Ease into their use and allow customers to understand why your company is using it, explain its value, and limit the risk of alienation. Check out our blog post, here, for tips on how to best implement your conversational AI bot.

Conversational AI is Helping Medical Professionals 

While there is nothing quite like an in-person doctor's visit, feeling the cold stethoscope on your chest, and being in an often bland exam room, that doesn't mean it is always the best option for you. Conversational AI is complementing medical professionals' performance and work. Especially over the entire pandemic, conversational AI has been able to leverage high-risk patients, perform various screening tasks, diagnostic analyses, and more. By communicating with the bot, patients can explain symptoms, how long they have been feeling this way, request to speak with a provider, and more. By working with a conversational AI-enabled chatbot, healthcare providers can save valuable time, provide care to the high-risk patients first, and assess symptoms for lower-risk patients without them coming into a physical office. Overall, it has been a positive integration for both physicians and patients alike [link to blog article titled: Chatbots for Healthcare: What do Doctors and Patients Think?]

These conversational AI bots are not limited to healthcare needs stemming from the pandemic; mental health agencies also utilize conversational AI bots. The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization concentrated on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQIA+ youth, has publicly discussed their company's use of conversational AI to help train mental health counselors. Within training sessions, these bots have served up realistic scenarios to practice their professional skills before they are cleared to interact with humans in real-life crises. These training scenarios are building more compassionate, professional, and effective counselors in the mental health sector of the healthcare industry. 

Conversational AI doesn't have to be the main event across healthcare organizations; it is perfectly fine in a supporting role, assisting providers and professionals in their daily operations. Whether the user is a doctor, nurse, or therapist, conversational AI makes excellent strides in effectiveness, efficiency, safety, and more!

The past couple of years has been unprecedented in terms of healthcare advancements, technological transformations, and the adoption of both. However, among all of the chaos of the pandemic and adjusting to a world with COVID-19 in it, we have seen vast advancements in technology that are bettering not only the healthcare industry but also others. AI and conversational AI are changing conventional processes and making them more efficient and safer than ever before. The healthcare industry has been able to find so many lessons for leaders in business operations and, of course, medicine. While we are still riding the pandemic wave and actively witnessing the benefits of this technology, it is likely that the use of conversational AI is here to stay and will continue to rise in usage and popularity. When combined with a human touch, conversational AI will continue to improve lives, enhance processes, and ease us into a "new normal."

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