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by Anthony Y. 11/11/2020

Chatbots are one of the more subtle technological marvels to have emerged from the digital revolution of the past two decades, and yet they are one of the more omnipresent ones. And with how good they’ve gotten with the exponential leaps in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the past few years, chances are that most websites you could think of are already using a chatbot in some way or form without you even knowing it!

Websites designed to cater to the healthcare sector are no different, and most websites of hospitals, clinics, insurance companies etc. have a sophisticated chatbot that takes care of tasks that can be automated easily.

And while the chatbots in healthcare vary from simple reminder-based ones that can suggest diagnoses like Your.MD or Florence to complex HIPAA compliant all-encompassing ones like SmartBot360, for the purpose of today’s article we are focusing on the latter kind. The HIPAA compliance is a major factor, for those bots can not only register the information that a user enters but also share them with the medical service in question. From a process flow perspective this ends up being a godsend as far as the customer experience is concerned. The sheer degree of engagement a chatbot enables in something as simple as scheduling a visit to the general practitioner augments the customer experience in a way that sweetens the whole process!

Chatbots and Better Quality of Healthcare

The implicit benefits of chatbots are as great as their explicit ones. The most obvious of these implicit benefits is how chatbots free up the human resource involved in the healthcare value delivery chain. With repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as information retrieval and appointment scheduling now handled by a few lines of code rather than dedicated personnel, said personnel can devote their energy and time towards patient servicing. This move goes a long way towards improving both the efficiency as well as the quality of the healthcare being delivered to the patients.

Continuing this theme of efficiency, chatbots are also not beholden to the constraints of on call hours the way medical personnel are. Chatbots are available to users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The best way to demonstrate the benefit of this is through a mini case study: Imagine it’s the middle of the night and you’re feeling what feels like an oncoming bout of food poisoning. Now the symptoms do seem to point in that direction, but you can’t ever be too sure unless you’re a medical professional, can you? Speaking of which, since it’s the middle of the night you can neither visit one nor even call one. Waiting until the morning seems difficult, but wait, you can ask a chatbot! By merely entering your details and elucidating upon your symptoms, you can have the chatbot index that information against its data repository and offer you a reasonably accurate diagnosis to proceed further with instantly. And should you feel a practitioner’s visit is still called for when the morning comes, you can easily have the chatbot schedule it for you as well without having to wait until the offices open.

As the above case study illustrates, chatbots allow for a degree of seamlessness to the entire value delivery funnel in healthcare that fundamentally betters the customer experience. The most important way to get it right is to lock down the chatbot’s live chat feature. Since customers are engaging with the chatbot in live conversation the same way they would with a human, more and more chatbots are focused on nailing the tone and cadence of their responses. As artificial intelligence and machine learning make greater advances, there is a beefier framework supporting the chatbot. Most modern chatbots today can engage in live conversation that is a close approximation of human speech patterns, thus making the entire act of engagement feel as smooth and seamless as that of talking to a human.

Improved User Journeys Lead to Improved User Experience

Chatbots are designed to be as minimally intrusive as possible, and often remain nested in a little corner of the page out of the user’s line of sight until they need to reveal themselves. This act of revealing usually happens when the user performs an action that leads to a set of predetermined actions, and the chatbot serves as a guide to walk the user through the rest of the process. To illustrate with another example, let us assume that a user is browsing through the website of a clinic when they click on the timings section. Since it is a reasonable course of action for the user to schedule an appointment next, the chatbot will pop up and offer that service! This seamless and contextual approach to user prompts makes the experience very fluid and engaging and is something that technology offers that a real-world equivalent can’t with similar ease.

And ease does end up being of paramount importance since in the absence of chatbots, the next best alternative to automate tasks with minimal human intervention is the use of interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Once heralded as revolutionary, IVR systems are now widely despised as they are seen as a slow and inefficient halfway house between effective automation and phone calls. With very high drop-out rates amongst a larger and larger proportion of surveyed audiences, chatbots are perceptibly better than IVR systems. The biggest advantage offered by them is the speed – with instantaneous responses in real time, users no longer need to press a number and wait for a good while to hear a pre-recorded message play out in its entirety before pressing another number and having the whole affair repeat ad nauseum!

With the use of chatbots, another folly of IVRs that is addressed is how dry and “annoying” they can be to have as companions through the user journey. While IVRs had to focus on robotic sounding pre-recorded messages with clear pronunciation that would be played through in its entirety, chatbots offer textual exchanges that can be read through instantly. Moreover, chatbots can be programmed to be an extension of the healthcare partner’s particular “brand”. Thus, chatbots can be anthropomorphized to reflect the brand image the healthcare provider is trying to project, and the chatbot’s responses can accordingly be professional, conversational, funny etc. A feeling of live conversation, fast visibility and engaging interaction makes chatbots a valuable tool in improving a customer’s overall user journey, and thus in turn, the overall user experience itself.

Of course, a tangential benefit of using chatbots ends up being that all the aforementioned can come together to replace boring old forms with more creative and engaging methods of data collection from the users. Whereas previously users would have to fill in the long, exhausting forms at their practitioner’s offices, the same data can be collected by the chatbots in a very engaging and quick manner to be shared and called upon as needed. This also eliminates the complexities that traditional forms would sometimes bring requiring addressing by someone at the practitioner’s office by simply letting the chatbot frame the question more simply relying upon context cues that can be gathered from the responses!

Putting it All Together…

Chatbots are an important tool for any industry but have particular advantages to offer as far as the healthcare sector is considered. With most chatbots today focused on patient engagement, the user experience ratings are stellar and are only going to keep improving as chatbots become more and more advanced to a degree where they can mimic human interaction in a way that makes the customer experience involving a chatbot virtually indistinguishable from that of one involving actual human interaction.

With the world becoming more digital and more isolated, that sounds like a good thing.

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