In today’s highly dynamic world, almost every industry is going through major transformations. Similar to other industries, the healthcare sector has also observed many changes during the last two decades. The artificial intelligence, telemedicine, telehealth, 3D-printing, robotics/ nanotechnology, augmented reality & virtual reality (VR/AR), and genomics, which were just theoretical concepts a few years ago, are now providing incredible services to the patients. 

The healthcare provider and seeker are adopting these healthcare technologies to save time and expense. Due to their higher reach, these healthcare technologies are improving the experience for all the stakeholders whether living in urban areas or the rural areas. Healthcare providers adopt these technologies to improve patient outcomes, and generate revenue, while on the other hand patients prefer these technologies to reduce costs, improved diagnosis methods, and saved time. 

Among all the emerging technologies in the healthcare industry, the chatbots (or virtual assistants) are gaining significant attention among the healthcare provider and patients. The chatbots are text or voice-based conversational software that connects users to the service provider to execute certain actions/query and to retrieve necessary information through mobile applications, websites, or telephone. The chatbots are artificial intelligence (AI) programs and can simulate a conversation with a user in natural language. The chatbots can process different types of data such as texts, images and videos. These chatbots over the years have found its relevance in almost every industry whether it is e-commerces where a larger number of customers interact with the services provider on a daily basis or whether it is a B2B services provider with a limited number of information seekers. 

In today’s highly competitive and advancing healthcare environment chatbots are playing a crucial role in the healthcare delivery system. Like for other businesses, customer experience and operational efficiency are the two most crucial aspects for healthcare also. Chatbots facilitate an efficient and effective way of self-service delivery system to the patient irrespective of time and his location. 

Depending upon the types of requirements, various chatbots are available in the market. Some of the prominent use of chatbots include appointment booking, personal counselling, medical test booking, doctors feedback, home healthcare services, medicine ordering, doctor or hospital appointment scheduling. The purpose of almost every chatbot is to provide valuable healthcare service to the patients through a seamless engagement process.

Apart from being the first contact point for primary care to the patients, these chatbots are provide some unique benefit to both service providers and patients such as- 

  • Scheduling appointments –  The chatbots are in use for scheduling the appointments. Specialized scheduling chatbot template helps patients to book appointments in clinics/hospitals or to the specialist doctors.
  • Reducing workload – Most of the time it is observed that the patients/customer require repetitive or monotonous FAQ query. These chatbots are capable enough to handle such queries on their own and segregate them, and forward them if there is a need for human intervention. 
  • 24×7 Operational capabilities – Irrespective of the user location and time the chatbots can rapidly handle patients queries. 
  • Cost-effective – The chatbots can handle multiple queries at a time. It increases the hospitals/clinics’ efficiency and reduces the cost incurred in manual interventions. 
  • Medication information or reminders – Chatbots keep track of the patient’s treatment journey by providing reminders to take medicine, answering health-related queries and of appointments. Similarly, chatbots coupled with AI can assess the users’ health based on indicated symptoms. In the recent Covid-19 crisis the healthcare chatbots have got significant attention from governments and the general public. Governments across worldwide and private enterprises have launched different chatbots to evaluate the risk of infection and assessment of early Covid-19 symptoms based on a series of questions. 
  • Claims and Billing – Similarly the other prominent use of chatbots is for billing, inventory, and insurance claims. 

Issues and Challenges 

Chatbots can be customized and built for a diverse set of roles. The chatbots, however, require regular human intervention to configure and optimize them for efficient service delivery. Without regular human intervention these chatbots are useless and can be risky sometimes. These chatbots are based on algorithms and cannot display human emotion and also it is possible that sometimes the chatbots may misdiagnose the symptoms. The information that these chatbots delivered needs to be accurate and reliable. Chatbots rely on the internet for service delivery, there is always a concern for users’ privacy, and potential data theft.

Future of chatbots in healthcare

Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries and continues to embrace the new technologies that provide seamless and cost-effective service to patients. Apart from Telemedicine and Telehealth, chatbots are also becoming popular among the younger and working population. To cater to the demand for chatbots for healthcare providers and patients, several companies worldwide are working in the healthcare chatbots market. Some of the leading companies in the healthcare chatbots market include Florence, Babylon Health, Ada Health, Sensely, Safedrugbot, GYANT, Cancer Chatbot and many others. 

Advancement in technology, rise in chronic disease, round-the-clock service demand from patients (especially among the younger generation), and reduced operating costs for healthcare providers, are some of the key factors which are expected to drive the healthcare chatbots market forward in the coming years. With the adoption of the chatbots among the doctors, patients, nurses and hospitals, in the coming years, the healthcare industry is expected to scale significant growth.