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Chatbots in Healthcare: Good Thing or Bad Thing?

by Sara Foster | Jan 23, 2019

It’s often the case that new technology that is quickly embraced by other industries takes longer to become widely used in healthcare. Chatbots have become de rigueur in other industries such as retail, but they are becoming more common in healthcare as well. graphic of a chatbot conversation on a smartphone

Providers are using chatbots to connect patients to them and payors. They’re also using chatbots to assist patients in following their plans of care. Payors are using chatbots to educate patients about their benefits. Some specific chatbot uses in healthcare include:

  • Northwell Health – helping patients navigate cancer treatments; keeping patients engaged after hospital discharge
  • Premera Blue Cross – helping members to understand benefits
  • Mayo Clinic – researching voice-activated bots to improve patient experience and save money
  • LifeLink – developed the back-end of a chatbot used in an emergency department to answer patient questions about their ED visit
  • Conversa Health – will soon launch a pilot program that uses a chatbot to help patients prepare for a colonoscopy.

While there are true advantages and benefits to using chatbots, it’s important to realize that chatbots are not a stand-alone answer to reaching the organization’s engagement goals. Chatbots should complement, not replace, other channels for customer service. “The true way to drive impact is using a chatbot as part of a broader customer service transformation," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation for Accenture's health business. “The promise is the ability to combine both human and machine to improve labor productivity, while improving experience and outcomes and addressing some of the staffing shortages.”

Not Everyone Likes Chatbots

But wait …even though 80% of CMOs in a survey by Oracle indicated they are either already using chatbots or plan to use them by 2020, another survey from Acquia found that 45% of consumers found chatbots annoying and 78% said that automated experiences are too impersonal.

Acquia’s survey involved over 5,000 consumers and 500 marketers from Australia, the UK, France, Germany and North America. It also found that while 87% of marketers were confident their brand’s experience met customer expectations, 53% of consumers said the brands fell short. In predictions for 2019 released by Forrester Research in November, 2018, the researchers stated that 2019 would be the year the backlash against chatbots and AI begins.

So how do marketers keep chatbots from becoming the latest incarnation of the much-hated interactive-voice-response phone tree menus? Experts offer several suggestions:

  • Develop multiple cues related to user intent and hand the customer off to human support as soon as any of the cues are detected.
  • Use a welcoming message from the chatbot to let the user know they are talking to a bot rather than an actual human, especially if the bot has a name.
  • Provide an option for the user to connect with a human at any time.
  • Give the bot no more than three chances to understand the user; after that point, connect the user to a human agent.
  • Conversations between bots and users should be monitored in real-time by agents so they can intervene when necessary.
  • chatbots
  • artificial intelligence (AI)
  • HealthCare Marketing
  • healthcare innovation
  • HealthCare Digital Marketing

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