Chinese search engine Baidu Inc., today launched Melody the Medical Assistant, an AI-powered conversational bot that helps doctors gather information from patients about their medical conditions. Baidu Melody is designed to save doctors and patients time in online discussions and provide relevant, contextual information to doctors to assist with recommendations and treatment options. The announcement was made at a Baidu Health and AI Workshop held today in Beijing. Melody is available immediately to patients and participating doctors.
Melody incorporates advanced deep learning and natural language processing (NLP) technologies developed by Baidu. It integrates with Baidu Doctor, an app that Baidu launched in China in 2015. The Baidu Doctor app allows patients to ask doctors direct questions, book appointments online and search for healthcare-related information.
“Melody is designed to help both doctors and patients. By focusing on the medical-assistant vertical, we’ve built a conversational bot that can give highly-customized and situation-appropriate responses to a patient’s query. As Melody has more conversations, it will also learn and keep getting better. We are just seeing the start of a much larger, AI-driven industry-wide transformation of healthcare,” said Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu.
Worldwide, the adoption of online communications between doctors and patients is growing. According to the World Health Organization, the world will face a shortfall of nearly 13 million health care professionals in the next two decades. In the U.S. alone, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the U.S. will face a shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025.
How Baidu Melody Works
When a patient opens the Baidu Doctor app to pose a question, Melody automatically asks the patient additional context-relevant questions, to clarify information such as the duration, severity and frequency of symptoms. It can also ask about additional symptoms possibly related to their condition but not initially disclosed by the patient.
This provides the doctor with a more complete picture with which to make an informed decision (such as whether to recommend an immediate appointment). Melody can offer possible treatment options to the doctor, who can choose to use them in a response to the patient.
Melody uses deep learning to understand a patient’s initial query and select additional questions to send to the patient. It has access to extensive medical knowledge gleaned from medical textbooks, online articles and other publicly available information.