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Healthcare bots assist patients with scheduling, billing requests

There are several current and emerging uses for bots in healthcare beyond scheduling appointments, such as providing patients with access to lab results or a list of medications.

It is without a doubt, sooner rather than later, bots will take on several job duties that have traditionally been done by humans. We already have virtual assistants in consumers' homes, assisting with everything from ordering groceries to managing calendars. As futuristic as it may sound, the reality is bots are already getting their shot in the real world, and healthcare is the next industry likely to become a beneficiary of this upcoming digital workforce.

The idea behind the bot is to create an application that allows anyone to interact with a software program more efficiently. With the use of natural language processing, bots can have a humanlike conversation via text or voice with humans. However, bots also rely on additional artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, such as machine learning, that allow them to solve complex problems and assist with requests that have traditionally been left to humans to solve. This puts healthcare bots on the top of the candidate lists for placement in some positions within the industry.

A recent study published in JMIR Mental Health highlights the success of using bots in mental health services. Artificial intelligence experts and psychologists from Stanford created a bot named Woebot that offered an effective way to help individuals with depression and anxiety. By leveraging the bot to interact with individuals suffering from those conditions, their condition improved compared to individuals who did not interact with Woebot.

While Woebot highlights the success and feasibility in the real world of bots in mental health services, bots in hospitals and other medical practices will likely have a different starting point. Below are five possible uses for healthcare bots.

24/7 scheduling assistant

In the primary care and multispecialty setting, most physicians rely heavily on patients contacting them to set up an appointment. Despite the availability of online scheduling tools, many patients still schedule doctor's appointments over the phone.

Healthcare bots have great potential to make a difference here; with their ability to understand requests via text, they can help patients find the best available time that matches an open slot on the provider's calendar. Offering the convenience of scheduling an appointment anytime by interacting with a bot will further improve customer service and fill up the provider's calendar.

Assisting patients with billing requests

The accounts receivable department has relied on interactive voice response systems for many years as part of their phone system to guide patients through the payment process. The solution has not always been the patient's favorite, as the system often did not understand requests that were outside of its directory of listed questions.

On the other hand, online portals have become popular with patients by offering more features. A bot, in this case, is likely to augment the functions of the patient portal by offering live-chat capabilities in which a bot can assist patients with their bill, set up a payment plan and answer frequently asked questions.

The bot that knows everyone and every department

For larger hospitals, offering the convenience of a 24/7 interactive bot to assist with phone directory, directions and general facility questions is valuable. Eliminating the need to staff those positions can reduce administrative costs. Examples include patients looking to see if a specific service is available in their area, or a simple request of getting the phone number of a specific department within the hospital. Either way, healthcare bots can offer 24/7 assistance via live online chat for frequently asked questions by patients.

The patient's personal assistant

Patients who need transportation to their doctor's visit or labs will soon enjoy the convenience of talking to a bot to schedule a pickup or drop-off. These services have historically relied on phone calls and talking to set up an appointment. With the advancements in AI, bots can add this skill to their repertoire with ease.

Scheduling a vehicle is not the only thing to be expected from a bot when it comes to being the patient's personal assistant. Other areas, such as receiving reminders about follow-up appointments or getting meal ideas based on dietary restrictions, are likely to be added to the list of tasks that healthcare bots can perform for patients.

Personal health record concierge

With the increased volume of data collected on patients -- from wearables to hospital-generated data within the electronic health record (EHR) -- patients are beginning to experience a new use for AI and bots that can explain and interact with their digital chart. Services are being offered today that provide patients with a quick and convenient way to navigate their health data, such as lab results, medication and other data points, by simply asking the bot a question. Microsoft offers conversational intelligence through bots available in its HealthVault service that is able to have meaningful conversations with patients around their health data stored within the service and assist in navigating through it.

As bots get to know patients and integrations with systems such as EHRs and other data sources continue to increase, powerful, personalized and fluent conversations between bots and patients will be the norm. More healthcare organizations will discover that increased patient satisfaction and operational efficiencies will justify adopting this technology trend. For hospital executives skeptical of the technology, holding off on AI and bots could result in loss of opportunities to gain market share and reduce costs.

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