Where is the future of all this automated tech taking us? Conversa Health’s Phillip Marshall and Therachat’s Kouris Kalligas weighs in on five use cases for chatbots in healthcare.
It comes on the screen in a blink, a little box that says, “Live Chat.” In the span of one click the text box comes to life with words: “Is there something I can help you with today?” It turns out, chatbots can and will help us do many things—and in healthcare—the virtual talk about its potential has just begun.
Take Conversa Health, for example. The company, based in San Francisco, CA, focuses on automating digital conversations between providers and patients. About four years ago, Phillip Marshall and West Shell started the company with the idea of creating a new form of patient engagement using the automated-tech.
Today, Conversa Health’s platform is a valuable population health management (PHM) tool, with more than 50 clinically-intelligent conversation programs that include conditions that usually require continuous observation and follow up care like diabetes and hypertension. Conversa’s is essentially automating the interactions that should take place between physician and patient to optimize healthcare delivery and improve both clinical and financial outcomes.
“We knew a technology that facilitated conversations between care teams and patients would have to be automated to some extent,” said Marshall, CPO. “We also knew, given the population of newly-insured individuals under the Affordable Care Act, that the technology would need to be scalable. That’s how Conversa was born. It was the intersection of the anticipated future of patient engagement and the need for a conversational, automated and personalized solution to facilitate the engagement.”
There is very little life involved in actual “Live Chat” and yet chatbots can and will supplement many human interactions beyond merely exchanging automated niceties—and Conversa isn’t the only company proving that concept. Therachat, another San Francisco-based startup is demonstrating that by using the technology to aid therapists with servicing their patients by creating a more continuous form of support between sessions. Still, all these tech-based touch points do not eliminate the need to remain humanly in touch with patients—not yet anyway.
“To date, the technologies that have been introduced to the mental health industry are striving to replace the therapist,” said Therachat’s founder and CEO Kouris Kalligas. “In my point of view, we as people, are not ready for that yet. At Therachat, we want to find a way to introduce innovation by supporting the therapist, their practice and the services provided.”
More Than Just Talk: 5 Use Cases for Chatbots in Healthcare
As companies like Conversa Health and Therachat continue to gain traction, the familiarity of chatbots and affiliated technology, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, will only continue to grow. Both Marshall and Kalligas shared ideas and insights on how we will see this technology take shape in the healthcare industry in the coming years. Here is a look at those use cases and viewpoints.
1. Customer Service/Administration
Log on to almost any site today, and of course, there is a chat bot waiting to help you navigate the site or troubleshoot a minor problem. Therefore, it should come as no surprise we will continue to see chatbots help users navigate services regarding their healthcare. The future in this regard may look like chatbots helping to schedule appointments, issue reminders, or help with refilling prescription medications. Of course, there will be a few privacy and HIPAA hurdles to jump before tech like that becomes common place. It’s not surprising to think those kinds of administrative and customer service functions are just on the horizon.
2. Patient Engagement
Both Conversa Health and Therachat have already put this use case well into practice, using the automated tech to keep constant contact between patients and their providers. Chatbots designed to not just actively capture but captivate the patients’ interest regarding their care calls into question if the tech can further engage patients to improve outcomes.
Despite the healthy criticism circulating the issue, both Marshall and Kalligas say they believe the right tech will strengthen that bond between provider and patient, not break it.
“One of the biggest challenges in our environment is therapists often direct clients to journal, and then come back a week later,” said Kalligas. “People who are accustomed to using phones, laptops and electronic devices are not going to sit down and put pen to paper for something to be discussed in a week. However, if you can make it easier by giving them something that is already in their hands, is fun and relatable, then people will do it.”
Marshall said: “We live in an ‘on-demand’ world and recognize that to meet consumers’ healthcare expectations, it’s imperative that providers embrace ‘always-on’ accessibility. Conversa enables that. It’s a huge transformation.”
3. Population Health Management/Care Coordination
At the heart of Conversa Health and Therachat is the idea of creating and maintaining an established pattern of treatment and care. Marshall says that offerings from platforms like those from Conversa Health are helping providers carry out the objective of delivering value-based care in an accessible and scalable fashion.
Aside from the convenience factor, both Marshall and Kalligas believe that necessity will drive both the innovation and demand for care management tools, especially to manage challenging populations where access becomes an issue. Thus, the integration and automation of outreach, coordination education tools in the form of chatbots and other emerging tech tools will only grow over the next several years.
“Provider organizations recognize that to meet new patient satisfaction requirements and value-based model of care standards, it’s imperative they implement patient-centric tools that enhance patient-provider communication and better manage healthcare experiences across the care continuum,” said Marshall.
Both Marshall and Kalligas pointed out that chatbots could greatly expedite triaging patients and expect it to become a commonplace occurrence in healthcare. Kalligas believes that with AI-powered chatbots, providers will get to the root of a patient’s problem immediately by creating a more personalized, human experience. Whether it’s an urgent care setting or a part of prioritizing population health management practices, chatbots will serve an important function in this area.
Marshall said that Conversa Health already uses their technology to aid in this capacity by integrating EHR data to create a real-time longitudinal view of the patient’ health. Similarly, the platform supports communication around key health experiences aside from chronic condition management including post discharge, pre- and post-surgery, patient education, medication adherence, and lifestyle health coaching.
5. Research / Treatment
Another opportunity that is already happening is harnessing the power of data – specifically machine learning – to analyze information and studies faster than ever before. Kalligas said that with the constant outpour of new cancer studies, it’s hard to keep track of the experimental solutions available.
“While a doctor who is treating cancer patients do not have the bandwidth to read and stay ahead of every new piece of research, a machine can,” said Kalligas. “A machine with AI capabilities can comb through all the data and provide concrete recommendations for doctors and their patients.”
This use case may be more about the advances to come from machine learning, but the extraction of that information could and may very well be in automated forms of outreach and support. It’s rather likely to suspect that there will be a marriage between the automation of finding pertinent information and delivering it, all with the aim of offering more personalized treatment.
Are you still there: The Human Side of Healthcare?
Technology research company Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2020, more than 85 percent of all customer interactions will occur without the involvement of a human. At Conversa, Marshall said they think that’s likely to be true for healthcare as well, as they already see many innovative health systems like Northwell Health, Ochsner, and Carolinas Health lead the way.
“Historically, it has been a personal and time-intensive industry, but we see more and more automation. We believe consumer-facing automated technology will continue to increase, particularly in how technology is used to optimize efficiency,” Marshall said.
However, these insights should not confuse the issue of still requiring the human foundation that healthcare has relied upon for decades. Kalligas said that innovators should remember it’s plausible need that drives the development of the technology, not just what’s technically possible. For example, he stated a lot of the tech minds believe that innovations from the automotive industry would work well in healthcare. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said. We might think certain technology will revolutionize healthcare; we must still consider workflows, hospital systems, and schedules. There is a rigidity that needs to be considered.”
That said, Kalligas thinks that technology often gets wrongly pinned as the “bad guy” when push comes to shove regarding the need to change. “Technology is not the enemy. The enemy is our interpretation of what is happening in other industries as it relates to technology. We look at companies like Facebook, Snapchat, etc. and we fear the machinery when we shouldn’t. There are good people, and there are bad people, but there is no such thing as good and bad technologies,” he concluded