Conversational AI Chatbots in Healthcare: Top Implementation Tips

Conversational AI Chatbots in Healthcare: Top Implementation Tips

While chatbots have been around for a few years now, the concept of healthcare chatbots is relatively new. There is much debate about what the capabilities of healthcare chatbots should be. Some believe that they could replace physicians in specific cases, while others think that this concept is ludicrous.

The bottom line is that conversational AI and chatbots are often the first point of contact for patients with customer service issues, basic questions, health concerns, or inquiries for further support or communication. As with other industries such as travel, retail, or banking that are using some sort of conversational automation, a healthcare chatbot would be used to simplify and improve a customer’s experience, but also support healthcare workers by automating repetitive tasks and interactions with internal systems. 

The Role of Chatbots in Healthcare

Within the healthcare industry, AI-powered chatbots can triage patients and get them to the person or department that can help them most effectively. Patients should find comfort in chatbots and understand that they are there to help. They can be a reliable and accurate way for patients to understand any non-urgent symptoms or other health concerns rather than turning to online searches. 

Currently, chatbots are being used in the healthcare industry for customer-facing applications such as intake, scheduling appointments, and basic Q&A around medications. Some applications are even more advanced, such as scheduling visits and procedures, answering targeted medical questions, interacting with patients post-discharge to reduce readmissions, and performing comprehensive medication reviews. 

How to Choose the Right Healthcare Chatbot

Choosing what application is best for your business or how best to implement it can seem like a daunting task. Below are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right healthcare chatbot solution for your business. 

#1. Keep it simple.

The design of the bot you choose must be simple overall. You don’t want users or patients to feel intimidated by the bot. For example, a simple solution that resembles basic SMS messaging produces few barriers for novice users. Consider a provider that lets you design your bot to fit your own process instead of only offering "out of the box" solutions that cannot be changed, or require significant effort to update.

Another way to keep it simple is to introduce bots (and their presumptive tasks) in phases. Don’t roll out all of the features at once; this could be overwhelming to patients and employees alike. If it seems too complicated at first glance, more people are likely to exit the chat altogether and choose to speak to an agent. 

A good starting point may be to choose one (or even two) specific tasks or cases to implement the chatbots. This will be able to provide a small and controlled environment for the bots to do their thing. Once the chatbots have proven that they are efficient and accurate, it will be much easier to upsell the idea of other tasks to be implemented by bots and for other departments to use them.

#2. Keep it authentic.

When incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into your business, you want patients to feel like they are being taken care of and are having organic conversations. The chatbots being configured must be able to keep the conversation flowing, and it should always resemble a natural, human-to-human conversation. If a customer chooses to end the conversation with the bot, there must be a seamless, uninterrupted transition to a live human agent to make things more comfortable. 

An authentic user experience is vital for the success of any business, let alone a chatbot they are implementing. If potential conversations are pre-configured into the bot, make sure they can produce the desired result. Make sure they can acquire the most basic information from patients at the initial start of the conversation, understand what to do with the answers from yes/no questions or multiple-choice questions, and understand possible lengthy responses to open-ended questions. The comfort of patients should be the main priority. They want to feel safe and secure, just as if they were talking to a human. The perception of undivided attention can go a long way in the success of chatbot adoption.

Empathy is something that patients desire when speaking with human representatives regarding their healthcare solutions. Companies may worry that by using chatbots, this human, empathetic touch will be lost. However, when implemented and configured properly, these bots can help care providers to surpass patient expectations and improve patient outcomes. 

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, chatbots were utilized more than ever before. With this surge in chatbot use, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association saw a perfect opportunity to study the intelligence, authenticity, empathy, and support that chatbots can provide to distressed patients. In their study, they found that chatbots in healthcare were most helpful when the chatbot’s ability, patient compliance, integrity, and altruism matched that of a human agent.

#3. Incorporate contextual AI

Contextual AI allows the chatbot application to understand the intentions of the patient or clinician who has initiated the conversation. Below are a couple of terms that illustrate how context can be a critical component in chatbot discussions. 

  • Inpatient: Inpatient, is often thought of as anyone staying in the hospital, but it stems much further. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) defines an inpatient as “anyone who stays OVER two midnights” to bill an account at that level. If not, those patients must be billed as outpatient or day-surgery.
  • Transfer: Just like the misconceptions that involve the definition of “inpatient,” a transfer can stretch far beyond just moving a patient from one facility to another. It can also refer to their level of care internally. When a patient moves from surgery to PACU, that is a LOC transfer. When they move from PACU to the unit, that is considered yet another transfer.

 

Context is also important for evaluating a patient’s medical needs. Often when patients contact 1-800 numbers associated with different aspects of the healthcare industry, they aren’t speaking with trained medical professionals who can assess the severity of their symptoms or diseases. Chatbots, however, are pre-configured by trained professionals and can collect basic information from these patients and provide more information about their conditions and suggest potential next steps. 

Many healthcare professionals see this as an opportunity to help patients decide when or where to receive care. Some people may be teetering on whether to even visit an ER or general physician, but conversing with a chatbot may help them realize the severity of their symptoms or conditions and help them make a potentially life-saving decision. 

Despite the helpfulness that AI bots can provide to the healthcare industries, the benefits will come down to patient experience, which is why proper implementation is so important. One bad experience with a chatbot will instantly turn patients away from using AI solutions entirely. 

It is critical that companies provide proper training to employees as well as configure chatbots to be the best, most efficient bots possible. [insert link to this article]

It is also important to inform and possibly even train patients on the chatbot solutions being used and explain how the tools can save them time and be influential in their care. Be respectful and understanding of patients that are fearful of using AI chatbots and offer other solutions to get them seen with providers and make them feel like the priority that they are. By providing patients with choices of how to receive care, confidence is boosted and loyalty to their provider becomes even stronger. For more information on what to expect regarding conversational AI and the healthcare industry, read more here.

Learn More about Chatbots for Healthcare

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