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AI Chatbots and Improving the Digital Patient Experience
Authored by Perry Price, CEO, Revation Systems
The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on hospital systems across the nation. As the coronavirus and stay at home orders spread early last year, many healthcare organizations faced the difficult reality of being forced to postpone all elective procedures and surgeries for weeks, or in some cases months, to free up resources to treat COVID patients. This disruption not only impacted patients who needed non-COVID related care, but also resulted in devastating financial impacts for an organization’s bottom line. Almost a year later, COVID continues to disrupt healthcare.
To adapt, healthcare organizations are relying on digital services to interact with patients more than ever before. And, similarly, patients are turning to telehealth technology significantly more than they had prior to the pandemic. According to the McKinsey COVID-19 Consumer Survey, the percentage of U.S. consumers using telehealth jumped from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020 as patients relied on telehealth solutions to replace healthcare visits that were cancelled in the wake of the pandemic. What’s more is that healthcare providers are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did in the past.
As hospital systems invest in the technology necessary to support what has become an urgent need to connect with patients virtually whenever possible, many organizations are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI), namely, chatbots, to make these communications as efficient and effective as possible as they quickly scale in number. Simply put, a chatbot utilizes artificial intelligence technology to carry on a conversation with a patient without requiring the presence of a live human. AI chatbots are helping healthcare organizations automate support for routine patient interactions while freeing up internal resources to assist patients with more complex matters. As patient expectations for receiving virtual care by way of telehealth solutions surges, healthcare systems are looking to leverage innovation in AI and chatbot technology to personalize their patients’ digital experience.
Personalizing the Patient Experience through AI
Although the telehealth adoption rate has increased significantly, many hospital systems have utilized AI as part of their communications strategy long before the pandemic began. AI chatbots have helped organizations automate different areas of patient care such as appointment scheduling, nurse triage and prescriptions refills.
So, what has changed? With patients rapidly increasing their usage of telehealth, expectations for the digital patient experience are also growing. Where chatbot technology may have faltered in the past by leaving patients unsatisfied with their experience or problems left unresolved, advancements in technology over the years has left today’s patients with little to no patience for ineffective chatbot technology. Patients now expect digital experiences with their healthcare providers to be convenient, effective, secure and personalized.
In the past, getting a satisfactory experience could only be achieved by visiting a healthcare provider in person at a clinic or hospital. Today, a positive, personalized experience is possible even when communication takes place through a mobile application with AI chatbot technology supporting it on the backend instead of a live human.
Enhanced Communications with Real-Time Data
AI can provide healthcare contact centers with the ability to leverage patient tone and sentiment analysis and real-time data, as well as automate important tasks like appointment scheduling. Tone and sentiment analysis AI technology enables agents to gain insight to how the words a patient is using is impacting the conversation.
For example, an agent using a sentiment analysis chatbot can converse with a patient through chat and detect, in real-time, certain emotions or tones that are being conveyed in their responses. This type of instantaneous insight has immense benefits for improving the communication they are having with a patient – even in the middle of a conversation. Tone analysis technology can provide agents with real-time feedback on their tone of voice when communicating with patients through audio. The data that this type of AI chatbot provides to a contact center agent is invaluable as it allows for the dynamic shifting of the agent’s communication with an individual patient to appropriately personalize the conversation.
In addition to sentiment/tone analysis data, AI chatbot technology can further personalize the digital patient experience when it comes to appointment scheduling. Healthcare organizations can deploy chatbot technology to automate the entire appointment scheduling process while also making it easier for patients to schedule an appointment online or through a provider’s mobile application. To take this a step further, providers can use AI chatbot technology that can ‘recognize’ a returning patient when scheduling an appointment on the organization’s website to streamline the process and more immediately personalizing their experience whether it be through suggesting a preferred clinic location or a certain provider they have seen in the past.
The Challenge of Chatbots
Though AI chatbot technology offers many benefits to healthcare systems, challenges still exist that prevent some contact centers from deploying the technology today. One of the main challenges that healthcare contact centers face as they look to digitally transform is creating a seamless experience across all channels. A great number of healthcare contact centers across the nation have historically used legacy on-premise phone systems (many are still using these solutions), which make it difficult to add the technology that needed to offer patients the seamless digital experiences they now expect, such as online appointment scheduling or chatting with a nurse from the website.
Healthcare contact centers seeking to improve the digital patient experience through AI and personalization must decide between attempting to connect multiple solutions or investing in a unified communications (UC) solution. An additional element of concern with layering technology from multiple vendors is the level of security in the communications that a patient has with the organization. Deploying a holistic solution often simplifies the process of connecting channels and creating a seamless experience for the patient – all while protecting patient data to the highest degree.
As AI becomes commonplace in healthcare contact centers it helps to improve the ability of agents and management to create a more personalized and effective digital experience for their patients.