Artificial intelligence (AI) has taken many industries by storm in recent years. This is especially true in healthcare, where the pandemic drove a surge in AI use that touched nearly every aspect of patient care and service delivery.
While the pandemic recedes into the background, the demand for AI technology in the healthcare sector only continues to grow. Conversational AI, and chatbot technology in particular, is in sharp focus within the healthcare sector, with a market value that’s expected to grow from $230 billion in 2023 to over $944 billion in 2030, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 17%. Fueled by expanding smart device access, broadband connectivity, and a general maturing of AI technology, chatbots are quickly becoming a widely accepted part of healthcare delivery.
Whether by offering simple scheduling assistance or delivering more complex diagnostics, chatbots can play a key role in improving overall patient experience and health outcomes. Yet, there is reason for caution, and chatbots — despite their fast-growing intelligence — can’t enhance healthcare on their own.
Indeed, chatbots represent a huge opportunity for the healthcare sector, but one that must be handled carefully. As we’ll explore in this article, AI chatbot testing can help ensure that this technology is implemented responsibly.
The AI opportunity in healthcare
Across the healthcare industry, chatbots already have a broad array of applications. To varying degrees, healthcare providers and their patients may already rely on conversational AI for the following:
- Symptom checks and patient diagnostics: Although bots can’t replace the personalized care of physicians, they can assist with basic symptom analysis and, in some specific cases, diagnosing certain conditions.
- General medical information: Chatbots excel at drawing on their vast knowledge base to provide general information to patients — knowledge that can then be further explored through doctor-patient interactions.
- Appointment scheduling and communication: Bots can provide efficient scheduling assistance and appointment reminders for patients, streamlining what is often seen as a patient pain point and a laborious administrative duty.
- Remote patient recovery monitoring: Follow-up care for remote patient recovery can be particularly taxing on the healthcare labor force, but chatbots can shoulder much of the burden with automated check-ins to collect patient information and flag issues for physicians to review.
- Medication reminders: Similar to the above, chatbots simplify medication management through automated reminders, refill services, and more.
- Mental health support: Although these services still need significant development, chatbots have shown promise in providing basic assistance and triage for mental health issues.
- Language translation: Translation is one of the most direct, high-value services bots can provide to remove barriers between physicians and patients.
With such a diverse range of applications, chatbots can essentially serve as dynamic virtual assistants for medical practitioners, providing care and patient services across numerous critical healthcare touch points.
Key benefits of healthcare chatbots
What do healthcare providers gain from deploying these virtual assistants? The payoff comes in three crucial areas.
1. Addressing staff shortages
Labor shortages in healthcare may have spiked during the pandemic, but the problem persists today. According to data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), 100 million Americans live in areas designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary care. Even more — 164 million — live in areas with shortages in mental healthcare professionals.
Chatbots can’t completely resolve the issues created by these shortages, but they can fill in many of the gaps. By assisting with administrative issues such as patient scheduling and providing critical diagnostic and recovery services, chatbots limit the need for additional staffing in specific areas and enable providers to maintain quality of care without straining human resources.
2. Faster, more effective patient care
Providers aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from increased usage of chatbots — patients are already seeing notable improvements in the care and services they receive.
Take scheduling, for example. Widely reviled as one of the most cumbersome aspects of healthcare, the scheduling process has often involved long hold times, limited hours, and multiple rounds of callbacks. Chatbots can automate much of the process and make it available 24/7, whenever it’s convenient for patients.
Direct patient care can also be made more efficient. Instead of waiting for a physician to respond to a simple diagnostic inquiry, for instance, patients can get many of their questions answered by chatbots, saving only the most complicated inquiries for a phone call, message, or appointment.
3. Cost savings
By providing more efficient patient care and reducing hiring needs, health providers can expect to see substantial savings from chatbots. Juniper Research estimated that bot deployment would save the global healthcare industry $3.6 billion annually by 2022.
These savings come to providers in the form of not only reduced labor but also lower costs of care. When patients have chatbots to provide reminders to take their medications, automated check-ins following surgery, and accurate language translation, these services may lead to improved outcomes and a less frequent need for crisis care in the long run.
The risks of healthcare chatbots
Although the benefits of conversational AI for healthcare providers are significant, there are also serious risks involved. Providers that fail to consider these dangers and meet them with AI chatbot testing solutions can do long-term damage to patient relationships.
Sensitive data exposure
The healthcare industry handles some of consumers’ most sensitive personal information, and detailed laws govern how this information is handled. Chatbots present a new channel for information flow, and thus an additional avenue for potential breaches of patient privacy.
AI technology puts new demands on healthcare providers, and developers must adapt chatbot technology to fit the privacy needs of the healthcare industry. These developments also call for updates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In the meantime, providers must exercise extreme caution when it comes to sensitive patient information and chatbots.
Providing inaccurate information to patients
Misinformation is a threat with any chatbot, but that misinformation can be especially dangerous when it involves medical diagnostics and treatment advice. When patients or providers rely on technology that isn’t built specifically for medical purposes, serious consequences may follow.
Unfortunately, with any new technology, that’s likely to happen. Providers turning to ChatGPT — an AI bot that hasn’t been trained with relevant medical information and data — is a perfect example of this problem in action.
Damaging patient trust
The end result of these mishaps is an erosion of patient trust. Misinformation and breaches of privacy clearly will not improve patient-provider relationships. And damage to patient trust will likely be even greater, considering the fact that most consumers are skeptical of the role of chatbots in healthcare to begin with.
According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans are uncomfortable with the thought of their doctor using chatbots in patient care. A third of respondents think reliance on these tools would even lead to worse patient outcomes. Clearly, providers must take a measured and cautious approach to incorporating this technology.
Using chatbot testing to keep your chatbots healthy
Chatbots have enormous potential to transform healthcare. However, in this industry, perhaps more than any other, the risks must be properly triaged and quarantined. Excitement over new technology and its opportunities should never outpace the commitment to patient care and privacy.
That doesn’t mean healthcare providers have to sit back and wait another decade before they can safely deploy chatbots to assist with administrative needs and basic patient care. With the help of AI chatbot testing solutions, they can integrate chatbots into care delivery while mitigating some of the risks.
A continuous testing and monitoring solution like Cyara Botium provides ongoing quality assurance for chatbots. Botium can continually analyze patient data and inputs to better assess your chatbot’s ability to understand their inquiries. This provides the essential information your developers need to continually train and improve the natural language understanding (NLU) engine that drives chatbot responses.
Botium can also help you to ensure your chatbot is prepared to handle the often-convoluted nature of a patient's medical inquiries. The gap between general patient knowledge and the cumulative wisdom of the medical profession is often vast, but your bots must be able to properly interpret what patients are looking for and provide accurate information. And they must do this while keeping sensitive patient data secure.
With the AI chatbot testing services that Cyara Botium offers, healthcare providers can keep their chatbots up to speed, regardless of changing patient needs. Even in the face of an unprecedented surge in demand, like the one we saw during the pandemic, you can be confident that your chatbots are up to the task.
Ready to transform your patients’ care without risking their trust? Reach out to Cyara today to see Botium in action.