If there is a silver lining somewhere with the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the globe, it’s that we have been forced to introspect on the healthcare sector, both public and private, and whether it has the tools it needs — not only to deal with such crises, but to ensure the best possible healthcare outcomes even under normal circumstances.
There can be no substitute for the inspiring efforts of doctors, medics and other healthcare providers, as the current crisis has demonstrated. But technology can play a key complementary role, enabling them to focus their energies more effectively, and amplifying the impact of their work.
Conversational AI has proven to be highly beneficial to a number of sectors. Chatbots and virtual assistants offer a seamless and engaging conversational interface that boosts the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of key business functions, as well as significantly enhancing end-user experience. All of this can be tremendously beneficial to the healthcare industry as well.
Based on Haptik’s experience of designing and implementing Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) solutions for a number of healthcare providers, we have identified two use cases in particular for which the technology can be implemented with relative ease, and help medical professionals treat their patients with even greater efficiency and care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced a lesson that we’ve always known but often forget — the only things that spread faster than infections during a healthcare crisis are misinformation and panic. But even during normal circumstances, inaccurate or false information about health or disease-related issues causes harm to individuals and communities. This either prevents them from making the right decisions or actively encourages them to make the wrong ones.
The need to educate people about the facts behind a particular health-related issue, and to undo the damage caused by misinformation, does place an additional burden on medical professionals. A powerful tool for disseminating accurate and essential information to those who need it would definitely be a great asset, and that’s where Conversational AI can help.
An AI Assistant can answer common queries and FAQs related to a particular disease, health condition or epidemic. It can raise awareness about a specific health-related concern or crisis by offering swift access to accurate, reliable and timely information. All this in an engaging, easy-to-use conversational manner, across a range of digital platforms including websites, social media, messaging apps etc.
At Haptik, we’ve already witnessed the success of this tech-driven conversational approach to raising public health awareness. We recently collaborated with the Government of India to develop the MyGov Corona Helpdesk — a WhatsApp chatbot to answer a wide range of queries about the COVID-19 pandemic, including symptoms and transmission, preventive measures, official government helplines, and more.
Within the first 48 hours of its implementation, the MyGov Corona Helpdesk processed over 5 million conversations from users across the country.
The choice of WhatsApp as a platform was a key factor in ensuring the wide reach of this solution, given that WhatsApp is the world’s largest messaging platform, with over 400 million users in India alone.
So it’s clear that an AI Assistant can be a force-multiplier to any awareness initiative, particularly when it is deployed on the right platform and easily accessible by its target audience (which, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, is everyone.)
In the long term, Conversational AI can serve as a virtual ‘healthcare consultants’ at any point in time — answering questions that millions of people across the globe have about major and minor health-related issues on a daily basis. It can also help them make more informed decisions about seeking further care. In this regard, a conversation with an AI Assistant would efficiently substitute the initial phone call you might make to your doctor to discuss your concerns, before making an in-person appointment.
When we talk about the healthcare sector, we aren’t referring solely to medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, medics etc. but also to administrative staff at hospitals, clinic and other healthcare facilities. They might be overtaxed at the best of times with the sheer volume of inquiries and questions they need to field on a daily basis. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation can become almost unmanageable.
Enterprises have successfully leveraged AI Assistants to automate the response to FAQs and the resolution of routine, repetitive tasks. A well-designed conversational assistant can reduce the need for human intervention in such tasks by as much as 80%! This enables firms to significantly scale up their customer support capacity, be available to offer 24/7 assistance, and allow their human support staff to focus on more critical tasks.
The healthcare sector can certainly benefit tremendously from such AI-driven customer care automation. In fact, Haptik has worked with several healthcare brands to implement such solutions — one of the most successful examples being our work with a leading diagnostics chain, Dr. LalPathLabs.
Haptik’s AI Assistant, deployed on the Dr. LalPathLabs website, provided round-the-clock resolution to a range of patient queries. It facilitated a seamless booking experience by offering information about nearby test centers, and information on available tests and their pricing. It also provided instant responses to queries regarding the status of test reports. The latter was particularly important from a customer experience standpoint, given that there is understandably a lot of anxiety that surrounds an impending test report, which makes a swift response all the more appreciated.
The assistant we implemented for Dr. LalPathLabs interacted with over 400,000 customers within a few months of going live, and received an overwhelmingly positive response from users.
The two aforementioned examples highlight how healthcare providers can leverage Conversational AI as a powerful tool for information dissemination and customer care automation. But we’ve barely started to grasp the true transformative impact of this technology on the healthcare sector.
We’ve already discussed how AI Assistants can evolve into the first point of contact for patients seeking primary care, which would significantly reduce the burden on medical practitioners and allow them to focus their efforts towards patients with more serious concerns. This is a paradigm shift that would be particularly useful when human resources are spread thin during a healthcare crisis.
A concern that has been expressed when it comes to Conversational AI in healthcare is that it lacks one of the key attributes of a human healthcare provider — empathy. There is some truth in that, and no can argue that AI Assistants should replace human doctors and nurses entirely!
However, Conversational AI will get better at simulating empathy over time, encouraging individuals to speak freely about their health-related issues (sometimes more freely than they would with a human being). Woebot, a chatbot therapist developed by a team of Stanford researchers, is a successful example of this.
Accenture predicts that Conversational AI can save as much as $150 billion a year for the healthcare industry by 2026! So even from a purely dollars-and-cents standpoint, it makes sense for enterprises in this sector to invest in AI Assistants.
A time of crisis can also be a time of opportunity. In the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic, we now have a golden opportunity to appreciate the potential of new and emergent technologies to truly add value to our businesses, our health, and our lives.