Combating depression, making basic diagnoses, supervising surgical operations — what else will healthcare chatbots do in the future?

Today, chatbots have become the first contact point for patients. They gather symptoms, identify at-risk patients, answer administrative questions, and schedule appointments.

Hospitals, private medical practices, dental clinics, mental health clinics, and pharmacies can increase revenue and decrease workload by adding a medical chatbot to their website, app, or messenger.

In this article, we’ll examine the use of chatbots by hospitals and clinics and other healthcare providers. Let’s dive in!

Types of medical chatbots

A medical practice chatbot is software that can communicate with patients like a human to provide instant help and facilitate the work of medical specialists.

Technically, medical chatbots can be divided into three types:

  1. Rules-based. These chatbots use pre-defined scenarios of questions and answers. Such chatbots can be used for simple tasks like answering FAQs or collecting basic information.
  2. AI-powered. This is an intelligent conversational agent that can analyze requests and provide answers based on previous experience with similar questions. This bot can be used for complex tasks like patient diagnostics and triage, in addition to mental issues.
  3. Hybrid. If the chatbot (either AI or non-AI) is unable to answer a question, Hybrid bots will connect a patient with a human agent.

Healthcare chatbots can be divided into several groups:

6 types of medical chatbots

1. Symptom checker

Often people wait for appointments for several weeks before the doctor can examine them. Special chatbots can check the symptoms against a database and suggest preliminary treatment rapidly. Especially during pandemics, it is important to help those people who are truly in an emergency, while those with minor symptoms can do with recommendations for self-treatment.

Ada Health is exactly such an AI-powered diagnostic bot that helps patients and doctors quickly discover the root of the problem.

AI-powered diagnostic bot example

2. Virtual administrator

Routine tasks such as booking an appointment, showing nearby clinics, and informing about services and procedures can be delegated to a medical office assistant chatbot that is available 24/7.

3. Informational support

Such a bot has a treasure trove of valuable information for patients, their relatives, and friends. Usually, they specialize in some particular problem or illness.

OneRemission chatbot helps cancer patients fight against their ‘enemy’ by providing tips on diet and exercise so that they can live more comfortably. OneRemissian also answers typical questions so patients do not need to visit their physician with every question.

4. Virtual advisor

In many cases, the only necessary treatment is a conversation. Chatbots were created precisely for this purpose! Chatbots can provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychological help is not as available as needed. People fail to look for mental help because of the cost, the inability to find specialists, or even the serious social stigma that is still attached to such treatment. Chatbots can quickly give patients anonymous support. Besides, they are just a phone call away at any time, day or night. 

Woebot is an AI-powered mental health chatbot that effectively treats the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

5. Health tracker

Some health conditions require constant monitoring and support. A nurse chatbot can assist people who forget to take drugs or do procedures. They can be connected to wearables that measure vital signs like pulse, blood pressure, and activity. Bots will remind patients to do exercises or take medicines. They can also report progress to the physician, and provide tips on self-care to the patient.

Florence is a virtual nurse that reminds patients to take pills and check their blood pressure.  It also finds the nearest doctor if necessary. 

virtual nurse bot example

Doctors often need quick advice that can help them navigate through the ocean of potential medicines; instead of searching the internet, they now can take advantage of pharmacy chatbots. For instance, Safedrugbot allows doctors to find necessary information about the use of drugs during breastfeeding (active ingredients, dangerous combinations, dosage, and alternatives). Those mentioned above are not all categories of bots. New variations appear every day. Often, chatbots combine several types in one to give move value.

What type of medical chatbot is right for you?

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Benefits of a chatbot for healthcare companies

If you are still not sure why you need to implement medical chatbots into your platform, look at this wide range of benefits:

benefits of medical bots

  • No-shows reduction

For a variety of reasons, 23% of patients don’t come for their appointments. The most common causes are forgetting about the appointment and fear of procedures or diagnosis. These no-shows cost Medical companies up to $150 billion each year. A chatbot medical assistant can make the importance of the visit clear to the patient.

Research says that patients feel more comfortable reporting their symptoms and emotional state to chatbots than to physicians. The chatbot can answer questions and inform patients about upcoming procedures (like colonoscopy or biopsy). They can also point to explanatory videos and reading materials.

  • 24/7 support

Chatbots can serve thousands of people at a time, giving them immediate responses and 24-hour support. Chatbots are always polite and accurate, never get tired or irritated by repetitive questions, and attentively “listen” to each patient.

  • Decrease in specialists' workload

The medical staff spends a lot of their time doing paperwork and solving administrative tasks, instead of caring for patients. Chatbots can answer questions, schedule appointments, deal with payments, help patients keep track of appointments, and perform minor procedures normally done in the hospital. You can even train your chatbot to do triage and to provide recommendations on first aid.

  • Extra medical help

The number of medical specialists is never sufficient. People who live in rural areas and those who cannot afford expensive appointments with doctors, still need help. While chatbots chatbot based on AI still cannot totally replace a real doctor, they can identify patients who are considering suicide, and provide them with mental support quickly.

  • Quicker and more accurate diagnostics

More intelligent chatbots can provide personalized recommendations according to the patient’s health history or symptoms. A hospital chatbot integrated with EHR can take into account patient data like allergies, analyses, and prescribed medications to quickly give doctors a full overview of the patients’ state and suggest possible diagnoses and treatments. A bot can make it easier to look up alternative medicine, proper dosage, and potentially harmful combinations. This significantly reduces the time that a doctor would normally spend to find all the necessary information.

  • Health supervision

Doctors serve many people and cannot physically keep an eye on each patient. Chatbots can monitor every patients’ health condition daily, remind them to take medicine, do exercises, keep records, and then report to the physician.

How to build a healthcare chatbot

Now let’s talk about how to design and create a good medical chatbot.

Off-the-shelf vs. custom medical chatbots

Nowadays, there are many out-of-the-box solutions with which you can build a chatbot even with no programming skills. You might use these to create your first chatbot that does simple tasks like answering FAQs or gathering contact information. Many of these solutions are powered by AI and provide more sophisticated features. The most famous platforms are Chatfuel, Tars, Botsify, and ManyChat.

Because they are cheap and simple to install, these platforms have only limited flexibility and functionality. They can be used to create solutions with basic, static features.

As far as off-the-shelf AI solutions are complete black boxes that cannot be opened or improved. Using such solutions risks having a chatbot with terrible inadequacies and not being able to fix the errors.

In addition, while no-code platforms position themselves as simple tools for tech dummies, you still may need to hire programmers to integrate the chatbot into your website, app, or CRM.

The final point to consider is data security. You never know who can access your data when you use a chatbot that was created with a canned solution.

Custom chatbot development allows you to prevent the negative experiences described above. You’ll get a unique, flexible, bullet-proof, and scalable chatbot. A personalized chatbot can meet 100% of your business needs, allow only you and your team access to the data, and it can grow and change with the speed of your business. The only downside to this approach is the high price of development, but experienced developers can find ways to reduce costs.

If you are sure what features you need (you may have tested them with no-coding solutions) and you are going to use a solution for more than a year, then custom development will pay off. It will save you money and headaches when the time comes for modification or for integration with third-party services.

comparing custom and off-the-shelf development

The best features of a medical chatbot

Depending on the needs of your medical organization, chatbots can have various functions. They can be ‘informative,’ only answering FAQs, or they can incorporate AI and NLP technologies to communicate with patients, give recommendations, and fulfill administrative tasks.

In recent research, 400,000 U.S. physicians were surveyed about their attitude to chatbots. Most of the respondents, 62%, saw benefits of using chatbots for medical organizations in the following areas:

what medical chatbots are useful for

Let’s talk about these and other popular chatbot capabilities.

1. Collecting patient data

One of the main responsibilities of a chatbot is to gather necessary information and make proper recommendations. All the data should be transferred to the CRM or EHR and added to the patient’s profile. This is a huge time-saver.

2. Answering FAQs

You can program your chatbot to give patients basic information such as:

  • the clinic’s working hours, services, prices, and contacts,
  • the location of the closest emergency point or service provider,
  • clarification of the hospital admission process,
  • the appointment time and laboratory analyses.

Bots can also provide educational materials, instructions on the proper use of medication, and information about how to prepare for medical procedures.

3. Booking appointments

Instead of calling the clinics and waiting for a secretary, patients can book appointments online with the help of a chatbot. If the patient is not sure which doctor is needed, a chatbot can ask additional questions to clarify the symptoms and match them with the relevant medical professional.

For one of our clients, a medical clinic, we created a chatbot with excellent scheduling functionality. Not only can patients schedule appointments, but they can also look through the profiles of available doctors and choose the one they like. The appointment time is automatically recorded into the doctor’s schedule.

4. Diagnostics

Ten patients out of 100 die because of diagnostic errors. These failures occur for many reasons including poor integration and data exchange in healthcare software, insufficient communication with patients, and deficiencies in the healthcare system. Using a chat bot to give a medical diagnosis can alleviate this problem. AI-powered chatbots backed by a strong medical database, and integration with EHR containing a patient’s history can give more accurate, quicker, and reliable diagnoses and suggestions.

5. Patients triage

For hospitals with huge patient numbers, it may be necessary to prioritize emergency cases. An AI chatbot can collect and analyze symptoms and assess the severity and urgency of each case. For minor cases, it can recommend basic medicine or treatment.

6. Renew prescriptions

One of the best features of the doctor chatbot is automatic medical prescription renewals. There is no need to wait for an appointment and go to the doctor just to give a prescription. Patients can simply enter their personal data and order refills remotely.

The chatbot sends a renewal request to the doctor who will approve or decline the prescription. If approved, the chatbot sends the renewal to the patient. A chatbot can connect with the pharmacy to check the availability of the drugs and order them for the patient.

7. Reminders

Reminding patients of appointments can reduce no-shows up to 90%. A chatbot can track the appointment schedule and notify patients in due time using their preferred channel — messenger, SMS, email. Reminders also can be set to notify patients about periodic checkups or necessary visits to the doctor. Chatbots can also give reminders to take medicine or to perform medical procedures.

8. Confirming leads for services

Chatbots work well in the marketing and sales departments. They can qualify leads by asking questions that will clarify the persons’ goals, and what to do next. Chatbots can lead marketing campaigns, advertise services and inform patients of special deals and discounts.

9. Integrating with other software

To work effectively for your business, the chatbot should exchange data with other systems that your business uses — EMR/EHR for managing patients’ profiles, CRM for lead generation, and accounting systems to track payments and send invoices.

10. Localization

If you have an international business, your customers need to be served in their language. Without a chatbot that uses the local language of your audience, you risk losing up to 40%, or more, of your potential customers.

11. Administration

Behind the scenes, chatbots should be orchestrated by an Admin to control processes, analyze statistics, check conversations for correctness, and resolve problems.

Challenges of medical chatbot creation

Using new technologies in Healthcare is riskier than in other industries because the stakes are so high. Most physicians (70%) do not trust chatbots when they deal with diagnostics or emergency triage assessment.

how physicians perceive risks from chatbots

The following challenges should be addressed during chatbot creation:

a. Security breaches

Data security is one of the biggest challenges of chatbot development. Only secure data storage and channels of data transfer should be used. All data should be encrypted and available only to authorized personnel. Your chatbot must be compliant with HIPAA (for U.S. healthcare providers), GDPR (if you serve clients from the EU), and other regulations to minimize legal risks.

Special care should be taken if you use off-the-shelf solutions to create your chatbot. Unfortunately, many no-coding platforms and open-source website development solutions (like WordPress and Magento) are popular targets for hackers, who are tempted to compromise sites ‘in bulk.’

Custom websites and apps are not as tempting to ‘black hats’ as they are secured with multiple protective measures, store data on separate servers, and contain data of only one company rather than hundreds of companies (which may not be as attractive to black marketeers).

b. Ensuring the accuracy of medical information

The wrong diagnosis, misunderstanding of the diagnosis or treatment, mistakes in drug prescription, or incorrect emergency treatment may have fatal consequences. This is what physicians are afraid of most when they delegate their responsibilities to machines. Such mistakes can happen because of insufficient chatbot intelligence or because of bugs in bot algorithms.

To stay on the safe side and minimize critical errors, you should confirm to what extent you are willing to give power to chatbots. A hybrid chatbot can be a compromise solution that will send difficult questions to human agents.

How to apply this to your business

Chatbots will not replace doctors either in diagnostics or inpatient care. But using a chatbot for medical clinics in combination with the traditional medical service can improve the quality of patient service, reduce medical staff burnout, and increase revenue.

Choose features that you want to see in your chatbot, decide on the level of responsibility you are ready to delegate to artificial intelligence and maintain data security. Security is the most crucial element for a medical company that collects and processes sensitive patient data. To guarantee the highest level of data protection, you need to make sure that the solution you use complies with the best security practices and governmental regulations.

When choosing custom development, you may be confident data belongs only to you and no one without authorization will be able to access it. You can also modernize the solution to fit your business needs and you will not have to compromise because of limits imposed by vendors of no-code platforms.

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Anna Klimenko

Anna Klimenko is a market researcher and author at Greenice with a deep technical writing background. She scrupulously investigates narrow business niches and creates insightful articles for entrepreneurs who are trying to start online businesses.

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Margarita Kirichenko

Margarita is an experienced project manager who excels at delivering projects on time and within budget. She has a proven track record of successfully leading marketplace, chatbot, and SaaS development projects, from the early stages to launch and support. Margarita is particularly adept at leading clients through the initial stages by providing discovery phase services. With exceptional communication skills, she effectively conveys project requirements and suggests solutions to clients, while remaining readily available to answer any questions.

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