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article imageCan intelligent chatbots improve healthcare? Q&A Special

By Tim Sandle     Jul 31, 2018 in Health
AI is disrupting healthcare and medical practices need to understand the potential benefits in order to offer patients the most up-to-date care and stay relevant in the field. The company Medical Analysts for Software Advice provides advice in this field.
A survey conducted by for Software Advice has found 81 percent of small medical practices are interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning-based tools to improve their business and patient engagement.
Intelligent chatbots the new disruptors in the medical industry, and they are starting to change the way physicians and hospital staff interact with and treat patients. It is unlikely that AI-enabled machines will completely replace human physicians, but they can provide assistance.
Lisa Hedges, a Medical Analyst from for Software Advice, surveys the scene.
Digital Journal: How widespread is AI becoming for businesses?
Lisa Hedges: It’s incredibly widespread for just about every industry. Not the kind of Westworld or HAL 9000 AI that people tend to think of, but more subtle and practical uses such as voice and face recognition and virtual assistants. That kind of AI is currently being used to help all kinds of businesses analyze data and make better decisions.
DJ: How about health care specifically?
Hedges: Healthcare is no different from any other industry in that AI is already being used to support, expedite and improve processes, and more and more healthcare providers will adopt AI in the coming years as technology continues to advance and it becomes more practical for smaller practices to buy and deploy.
DJ: What forms is AI taking?
Hedges: In healthcare, we’re seeing AI manifest in things like chatbots, virtual assistants and intelligent decision support systems. All designed to reduce physicians’ workload and make their lives—and patients’ lives—so much easier.
DJ: How does this benefit the patient?
Hedges: It’s saving money and making things a lot faster. Take chatbots, for example, which are among the most widely-used patient-facing tools right now. They’re easy to use, interactive and available to patients at any time on any day, so the patient experience doesn’t suffer in the absence of a physician or customer support team.
Additionally, the non-patient facing applications being used by physicians free up their time so they can be more focused on the patient in front of them, which is another way patients benefit from AI.
DJ: How ‘intelligent’ is most AI?
Hedges: In healthcare, AI tools are quite intelligent. For example, in the case of Intelligent Decision Support Systems (IDSS) that are deployed by medical practices, the AI decisions are usually final and the system will proceed unless the physician intervenes. The physician mostly supervises the treatment process and intervenes only during rare emergency circumstances, if required.
AI-based virtual assistants possess the conversational ability and are able to support the physician in recommending treatment options, messaging patients and answering routine queries. These assistants manage a lot of administrative tasks and can reduce physician burnout.
DJ: Are there any downsides with the rise of AI, like chatbots, in healthcare?
Hedges: Right now, most healthcare AI is designed to execute either pre-defined, specific tasks or (at best) a few related tasks—but it can’t do any unrelated tasks at all. That means physicians must still assume a supervisory role to ensure there are no errors. That’s good news for the people who are afraid AI will replace human doctors, though, so it’s not such a steep downside after all.
DJ: What is the general response of the medical profession?
Hedges: I think it is, overall, very positive. Especially among physicians who are used to using tools such as EHRs and telemedicine, as they may be more primed to embrace technological solutions. AI makes physicians’ lives easier by reducing workload, which in turn dramatically reduces physician burnout.
DJ: Could AI partly replace the medical profession?
Hedges: Perhaps partially, but it’s not going to put doctors out of jobs anytime soon. AI is designed to be more of a partner to human physicians, which means the actual responsibilities of doctors will remain theirs. Look at chatbots (again): market growth for healthcare chatbot providers is growing at a very high rate, so we know more and more practices are using them. However, because individual patients can see such a wide variety of symptoms, they’ll still need to see an actual doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
DJ: How are patients reacting?
Hedges: Evidence suggests that patients prefer AI-based tools, such as chatbots, as a communication channel. Also, some patients feel more comfortable disclosing personal information to a bot than to a person, even a physician.
AI’s primary goal in healthcare is to help physicians treat patients more efficiently, and it’s the next big step for the healthcare industry, so you can’t afford to ignore it.
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