Digital assistants can help solve the greatest challenges currently facing the healthcare sector – here’s how

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The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt accelerated digital transformation in the healthcare sector. Once seen as “nice to haves”, virtual appointments and digital health apps have become ubiquitous. Now, as the world begins to recover, healthcare providers are looking to build on this momentum by adopting more innovative technologies to improve patient outcomes and optimise resource distribution.

Thanks to rapid improvements in data analysis and machine learning, digital assistants are now a reliable tool to support healthcare staff and patients and create cost efficiencies. Accenture estimates that clinical health AI applications will create $150 billion in annual healthcare savings in the US alone by 2026.

Patient support

Using digital assistants as a first point of contact for patients enables doctors and nurses to focus on cases where they can deliver the most value. If a patient’s medical query can be addressed through selfcare, a chatbot can deliver timely, accurate and compliant advice. If in-person medical treatment is required, it can redirect patients to community resources or emergency care.

Digital assistants are infinitely scalable, absorbing any peaks and troughs in demand and reducing waiting times for patients. Plus, the relative anonymity of talking to a chatbot is often appealing, empowering patients to raise issues that they may feel uncomfortable discussing in person. It’s no surprise then, that 64% of  patients say informational chatbots are their preferred channel for addressing healthcare queries.

Ongoing health management

Almost 15 million people in the UK alone live with at least one chronic medical condition. Meanwhile, six in ten US adults have a chronic disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant gaps in the management of chronic conditions including diabetes, asthma and arthritis. In many cases, routine testing and monitoring appointments have been cancelled, and some patients continue to be afraid of seeing their doctor in-person, lest they become infected.

To avoid what has been dubbed “the second healthcare crisis”, healthcare providers are now renewing their focus on managing chronic conditions. Digital assistants are perfectly positioned to help in this regard. With recent developments in natural language processing, it’s now possible to achieve frictionless and intuitive communication between chatbots and patients. Pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim worked with EBM to create Tabatha, a chatbot designed specifically to help asthma sufferers understand and manage their condition. Unlike a standard web questionnaire, Tabatha analyses language to determine users’ emotions and draw out additional insights. 

By asking carefully chosen questions, chatbots are an effective tool through which patients can keep a regular record of their symptoms, the effects of prescribed medication and more – as well as receiving selfcare tips and advice. The data captured by digital assistants can then be analysed by medical practitioners to inform future treatment.

Administrative tasks

Repetitive administrative tasks – such as prescription refilling and appointment booking – can be easily delegated to a digital assistant. Since these interactions are typically consistent, implementing a chatbot to fulfil them is relatively quick and inexpensive – making them a great “gateway chatbot” for healthcare providers looking to explore this field.

A key advantage of using a digital assistant for appointment planning is that it’s available 24/7. Patients can make, reschedule or cancel appointments whenever it’s convenient for them. This typically leads to a reduction in costly missed appointments, and increased take-up for routine screenings – a win-win scenario for healthcare practitioners and patients.  

Dispensing information to healthcare staff

Today’s healthcare environment is more fast-paced than ever. Due to frequent scientific breakthroughs, and regular updates to government advice, the landscape in which healthcare practitioners are operating is constantly shifting. As a result, it’s no surprise that healthcare staff are increasingly turning to senior leaders and governing bodies with medical, administrative, or health and safety-related queries.

Digital assistants are an effective way of dispensing the most up-to-date information in an easily digestible format. For instance, EBM recently worked with NHS Health Education England (HEE) to develop Charlie, a chatbot that answers pandemic-related questions about recruitment and training for doctors, dentists, nurses and other healthcare practitioners. By correctly answering 93% of queries, Charlie freed up HEE staff to deal with more complex matters.

Overall, digital assistants are well-placed to help optimise how limited resources are distributed in the healthcare sector – reducing time wasted by staff on monotonous tasks and maximising budgets. As we begin the long recovery from a once-in-a-generation global health emergency, this has never been more important.Keen to learn more about how EBM’s digital assistants can support your healthcare organisation? Schedule a demo.

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