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by Vagelis H. 11/13/2020

A key promise of chatbots is their potential to increase patient engagement. This in turn can lead to better health outcomes, lower costs and more successful patient acquisition. Before chatbots became popular, health organization relied on mobile apps to engage patients. However, this never succeeded because of the high communication friction. Specifically, the patient has to first find and install the app, then create an account, a login and a password, and remember them.

So, how can chatbots reduce this friction? The first part (installing the app) is the easy one to disrupt, as a chatbot can be hosted on a Web site, Facebook Messenger, SMS or Whatsapp, just to mention a few, so there is nothing to install. The second part is more challenging.

Bots that are hosted on chat platforms (like Messenger, SMS or Whatsapp) are not HIPAA-compliant. Web chatbots can be HIPAA-compliant, but without a registration (username/password) process it is hard to authenticate (i.e. ensure that the individual is who he or she claims to be) a patient.

This means that Web chatbots can be easily used to collect new leads, but not to engage the same patient in the long term. When the same patient uses a Web chatbot on two different days, it is generally not possible to know that this is the same patient, as the IP address or the browser’s User Agent are not reliable authentication methods.

So, how can a chatbot authenticate a patient without requiring installing an app or using a username and password? One way, which is being employed by the SmartBot360 platform, is to authenticate the patient via their phone number and then switch (by sending a unique hyperlink) securely to a HIPAA-compliant Web bot. There are some details to work out, for example, ask permission from the user to contact them via SMS and also to notify them about health-related matters.

Achieving frictionless patient experience is clearly a great challenge, so we may see some promising technologies in the future that make it easier. For example, mobile phone browsers in the future may have protocols to authenticate Web chatbots. Browser notifications are a step in this direction, but they are not enough as they do not authenticate the user.

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