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article imageMicrosoft announces preview of AI-powered health chatbot system

By James Walker     Dec 14, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft's launched a private preview of a new AI-powered health chatbot system. The company said intelligent healthcare assistants could "empower" users to access medical info from their smartphone, cutting the time and cost of obtaining healthcare.
Checking for care
The project is being developed as part of Microsoft's Healthcare NeXT initiative. The company's trying to find ways of offering digital healthcare experiences that let user get immediate information on common ailments. Microsoft has partnered with Aurora Health Care for its latest chatbot service, creating the "Aurora Digital Concierge" for patients.
The smartphone app allows users to determine the level of care needed for their condition. By answering questions provided by the bot, the app can suggest possible causes for the symptoms being experienced. It then presents a judgment on the best professional healthcare option.
Users can schedule appointments with a doctor from inside the app. The bot provides guidance on the type of doctor needed and how quickly treatment should be sought. It then makes the appointment for the user.
Using the app, patients can identify their condition and access professional medical advice with "a few clicks." The entire experience supports natural language input to improve accessibility for new users.
"Aurora Health Care is focused on delivering a seamless experience for our consumers and the health bot allows us to introduce technology to make that happen," said Jamey Shiels, Vice President of Digital Experience, Aurora Health Care. "The use of AI allows us to leverage technology to meet consumers where they are; online, mobile, chat, text, and to help them navigate the complexity of healthcare."
Streamlined medical experiences
The underlying technology in the Aurora Digital Concierge is being made available to all of Microsoft's healthcare partners. The health bot remains in active development but several U.S. medical providers are already evaluating or using apps based on the project. Besides Aurora Health Care, Microsoft lists Pacific Northwest health plan provider Premera Blue Cross and health care delivery network UPMC as current users.
According to Microsoft, the bot provides an example of how AI and digital tech can benefit consumers. People who use the bot can find symptom and care details more quickly than if they visit a webpage or call a medical facility directly.
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However, recent studies have found that most consumers remain sceptical of AI-based technologies, with just 12 percent choosing to use a chatbot. Projects such as Healthcare NeXT highlight what's possible with the technology but don't address the issue of getting people to actually use new bots. Microsoft said it's working to harness the "enormous opportunity" of bots in healthcare, explaining the tech could streamline the entire medical experience.
"At Microsoft, we believe there is an enormous opportunity to use intelligent bots to make healthcare more efficient and accessible to every individual and organization," said Hadas Bitran, Principal Group Manager of AI + R for Healthcare NeXT. "Our goal is to amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology, and we’re doing that in healthcare by infusing AI into solutions that can help patients, providers, and payers."
More about Microsoft, Ai, Artificial intelligence, machine learning, Healthcare