11 Jun How Conversational AI Could Remake Health Care
One of the most pressing problems the United States faces is a shortage of access to health care. Some California politicians are trying to fix this with legislation that would improve access. While many are looking to policy to fix the problem, they should not overlook the role that emerging technologies can play in both managing health care and treating common conditions and diseases.
One of the places this is happening is the personal health care market, which includes family physicians and urgent care clinics, among other facilities. The adoption of “conversational artificial intelligence (AI)” by health care providers is part of a larger overall trend that will see the AI health care market rapidly expand in the coming years. Accenture predicts these changes could save the health care industry $150 billion a year by 2026.
Conversational AI offers a natural and intuitive method of communicating with customers. Traditional voice recognition systems are static. Customers need to navigate multiple menus and options and usually end up pressing zero for an agent. A conversational AI system starts with a question and then routes the customer to the right answer or solution, eliminating the wait and frustration. It’s almost no different than talking to an empathetic person.
From faster claims to better management of chronic conditions, conversational AI could reinvent the global standard of health care. It could also help the industry save money and resources by ensuring that visits to emergency departments are only for severe or life-threatening conditions. Here are the key areas where conversational AI could potentially improve health care.
Easy Access to Better Care
With a record number of influenza cases in 2018, ill patients looked for an appointment with their doctor. While the season was busy many were able to book virtual appointments and get the same standard of care. Conversational AI offers access that isn’t intrusive to a provider and gives patients ease-of-mind that their concerns will be answered in a timely fashion. It provides access to health care professionals around the clock. When they first need help, patients will be able to schedule a doctor’s appointment using a virtual assistant. Patients can send their providers pictures of a troubling skin condition or a note inquiring about potential medication side effects.
One of the critical reasons patients have a difficult time staying on top of chronic health conditions — hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis — is poor adherence to medication management, particularly among the aging. A virtual assistant could instruct patients on how and when they should take their blood pressure medication or answer common questions about the drugs. A virtual assistant can also help patients be proactive about their health care by offering information about smart lifestyle changes like better diet and exercise.
The changes help both patient and an overworked health care system by offering a clear path to get routine information and care that in the past often required setting up an appointment and visiting the doctor’s office. The benefits, however, don’t end with care — the business of health care will also improve. Virtual assistants will be able to assist with questions on health care claims, help patients file a claim or perhaps check their deductible or even see if their doctor has been reimbursed.
Implementing Your Own Conversational AI Solution
Getting started with conversational AI can seem daunting. You need to consider different vendors, determine what business processes you want to fix or improve and figure out how to tell both employees and customers or patients about the changes. Take it slowly at first.
It’s important to remember three things as you start: integration, change management and security. Since all conversational AI will to tie into a backend computer system, make sure you determine how a virtual assistant will be used before you go live. Change management simply means clearly communicating to customers that they might be talking to a virtual assistant in the future and alerting employees to the new technology. Finally, security is paramount. Ensure you are complying with data regulations — for example, HIPPA regulations for medicine.
The Doctor’s Office of the Future
Once you do that you have a foothold in the future. Conversational AI is on its way to providing more advanced care in the coming years, which could scale down the number of impractical and time-consuming office visits. Virtual assistants powered by machine learning could diagnose certain conditions like skin rashes by reviewing information or images supplied by patients. A virtual health care provider could then provide a course of care, including medication.
It’s hard to imagine an area of health care that won’t be touched by conversational AI in the future. There will be some growing pains as health care providers accustomed to legacy systems both move past antiquated technology and adjust to a new way of interacting with patients. Some of the barriers to widespread adoption of AI, including conversational AI, include patient mistrust of the technology and a medical culture resistant to digital medicine. Still, it’s difficult to think of any technology that didn’t have to overcome similar hurdles to become widespread.
The overall benefits are there: improved access to scheduling and care, as well as tailored feedback on managing your health and streamlined claims and billing. Conversational AI provides a thoughtful and patient-centric approach to health care in a time when many patients experience the opposite.
Author — Ram Menon, Founder & CEO, Avaamo
This article was originally published on Forbes.