Brace yourself: The chatbots are coming. In fact, healthcare chatbots could become an important part of healthcare organizations’ IT infrastructure, according to research released by a market analyst firm. I have my doubts but do read on and see what you think.
Jupiter Research is predicting that AI-powered chatbots will become the initial point of contact with healthcare providers for many consumers. As far as I know, this approach is not widespread in the US at present, though there are many vendors developing tools that they could deploy and we’ve seen some success from companies like SimplifiMed and big tech companies like Microsoft that are enabling chatbots as well.
However, Jupiter sees things changing rapidly over the next five years. It predicts that the number of chatbot interactions will shoot up at an average annual growth rate of 167%, from an estimated 21 million per year in 2018 to 2.8 billion per year in 2023. By that point, healthcare will represent 10% of all chatbot interactions across major verticals, Jupiter says.
According to the market research firm, there are a number of reasons chatbot use in healthcare will grow so rapidly, including consumers’ growing comfort level with using chatbots to discuss their care. Jupiter also expects to see healthcare providers routinely use chatbots for customer experience management, though again, I’ve seen little evidence that this is happening just yet.
The massive growth in patient-chatbot interactions will also be fueled by a rise in the sophistication of conversational AI platforms, a leap so dramatic that consumers will handle a growing percentage of their healthcare business entirely via chatbot, the firm says. This, in turn, will free up medical staff time, saving countries’ healthcare systems around $3.7 billion by 2023. This would prove to be a relatively modest savings for the giant US healthcare system, but it could be quite meaningful for a smaller country.
As healthcare organizations adopt chatbot platforms, their chief goal will be to see that information collected by chatbots is transferred to EHRs and other important applications, the report says. To make this happen, these organizations will have to make sure to integrate chatbot platforms with both clinical and line-of-business applications. (Vendors like PatientSphere already offer independent platforms designed to address such issues.)
All very interesting, no? Definitely. I share Jupiter’s optimistic view of the chatbot’s role in healthcare delivery and customer service and have little doubt that even today’s relatively primitive bots are capable of handling many routine transactions.
That being said, I’m thinking it will be more like 10 years before chatbots are used widely by providers. If what I’ve seen is any indication, it will probably take that long before conversational AI can truly hold a conversation. If we hope to use AI-based chatbots routinely at the front end of important processes, they’ll just have to be smarter.