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Chatbots in Healthcare: Advantages and Disadvantages


Max Savonin

Technology that substitutes a hospital administrator, a healthcare consultant, a self-care coach, or an elderly care provider. How to make it effective, trustworthy, and safe?

Healthcare as one of the vital spheres of human life is badly falling behind technological progress. While e-commerce, hospitality, or the food industry are advanced and augmented with various technological solutions, healthcare still sticks to the traditional way of doing things.

Why can you order a pizza in ten seconds but have to wait for an appointment with a doctor for days and weeks?

How can you make sure that urgent medical help is indeed urgent?

Why finding a credible answer to an important question about your health is so annoyingly difficult?

I am also deeply concerned about the lack of attention that the healthcare industry receives. And the first and easiest solution I can offer to change it is to implement the chatbot technology in healthcare software.

Healthcare chatbots will never substitute doctors. But they provide plenty of opportunities to facilitate their job or to improve their performance.

Scheduling appointments and answering typical questions is what most healthcare administrators spend their day doing. Repeating the same words and actions over and over again is neither productive nor really necessary. This kind of job can be easily performed by a chatbot, who can collect user requests, schedule doctor visits, and answer simple questions. Your patients will say “thank you” for the opportunity to get their requests processed without any extra effort. They will not have to go to a hospital or even to make a call to solve a simple problem. They will just open a mobile or web app and message their questions. Chatbots can be used to remind patients about an upcoming appointment or a regular check, to collect feedback, to check up on their health condition, or to advertise a healthcare business. Meanwhile, your healthcare personnel can spend time actually caring about patients instead of going through an unnecessary routine.

Being worried about your health is natural. Every day, people have many questions, both major and minor, concerning their health condition. It would be particularly useful if there was a healthcare consultant in their pocket who would provide all the answers. No, Google is not working. There are so many websites with questionable credibility that you better not trust them with your health issues. Develop a healthcare chatbot instead. It will be particularly topical for people living with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or HIV/AIDS.

I had the pleasure to work with a company striving to make the lives of cancer survivors better. OneRemission is an Integrative Oncology application augmented with a chatbot. Here, the chatbot plays the role of a physical, mental, and social health consultant. If a user has anything positive or negative to share, they message a chatbot and receive an explanation of their feelings. If they have a question to ask, they ask the chatbot and get an instant profound answer. If they need advice on nutrition, sleep, or exercise, OneRemission becomes a personal consultant. Similarly, it helps relatives of friends of cancer survivors to learn how to behave in the most helpful manner, how to support their close one, and how to analyze their condition.

This application became a life vest for people recovering from cancer and for their families. It is an outstanding example of how healthcare chatbots can improve patient outcomes, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Disciplining oneself is hard, but there is hope. Chatbots can be used to count calories, monitor the amount of water you have consumed, keep records of exercising or sleeping routine. They can suggest different healthy food recipes, remind of the need to take pills, or advise to see a doctor. Finally, chatbots can send inspirational and motivational quotes to boost one’s mood and self-esteem. A chatbot will not substitute medical care, but it can easily become a personal holistic self-care coach.

It might be hard to imagine an old lady messaging a chatbot. And there is no need to. Your elderly patients can talk to a voice personal health assistant and get all the answers or requests processed. Voice app development is barely different from the development of a regular chatbot. The procedure is almost the same, and the challenges are quite similar. This is how you can target an additional segment of patients without putting too much extra effort. Your application can come in handy not only for the elderly patients but also for people with visual or mobility impairments.

Irregular breathing, breathlessness, or a dangerous heart rate can be symptoms of a life-threatening health condition. Incorporate your chatbot application with a smartwatch or a fitness tracker, which can monitor breathing and heart rate. If there are any signs of danger, alert your user with a chatbot message. If they do not answer, let their emergency contacts know. This is how you can turn your app into a red panic button, which may warn your user about a dangerous symptom or call for emergency help.

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