Piedmont Chatbot Works Overtime To Help Patients

Piedmont Healthcare, an 11 hospital system with over 500 locations, was just eight months into their chatbot roll-out when a crisis hit. Their contract with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield expired on March 31st, 2018 putting thousands of Georgia patients in healthcare limbo.

Without a contract, Piedmont was suddenly considered an out-of-network provider for Anthem members. This meant significant out-of-pocket costs for any Anthem patient that wanted to continue to see physicians or receive care from Piedmont Healthcare. Understandably, there was a lot of concern from the public and patients during this contract dispute. Luckily for Piedmont, they had a new chatbot that could help keep patients informed.

In the consumer world, chatbots are everywhere. It is almost impossible to dial into a support line without running into an automated chatbot that filters and directs your call to the right type of agent. Nor can we visit a consumer-facing site without a helpful window popping up with a virtual sales agent (chatbot) ready to guide us to a purchase.

Back in September 2017, Piedmont implemented the Loyal chatbot platform to help provide patients with a better website experience. It was originally deployed on just 8 pages of the Piedmont website.

“We really wanted the chatbot to create a frictionless experience for people looking for information,” explained Matt Gove, Piedmont Health’s Chief Consumer Officer. “The beauty of the chatbot is how easy it is to create engagement and how effective it is in helping people get to the right place to find the information they need.”

By the time the contract with Anthem became an issue, the chatbot had handled over 16,000 conversations which represented 3% of website visitors. According to Gove and Loyal, 80% of the queries at the time were being fielded without the need for a live agent to intervene.

In the weeks leading up to March 31st, the chatbot started to get more and more questions about the status of the contract with Anthem. This wasn’t expected. The chatbot’s neural network and rating system had been configured with the patient’s most frequently asked questions. It wasn’t equipped to handle questions about the contract negotiations.

“In hindsight it was a natural place for people to turn to for answers,” said Gove. “We had created a way on our website to start a conversation with patients. So of course people were going to use it to try and start a conversation with us about the Blue Cross Blue Shield situation. The chatbot had become a go-to resource for them.”

When these questions started being asked through the chatbot, the team at Loyal brought it to the attention of Gove and his team at Piedmont. Rather than divert the inquiries to live agents, Gove and Loyal decided to configure the chatbot to handle basic questions about the contract status. This would reduce the burden on the live agents AND would help patients feel like they were “in the know”.

In less than a day, the team at Loyal had configured the Piedmont chatbot so that it could answer basic questions about the contract dispute. When the questions went beyond the basics, it would guide people to the microsite that had been created specifically to provide more detailed information about the situation – keeppiedmont.org.

“We were excited to collaborate with Piedmont for this problem-solving application of our technology,” recalled Brian Gresh, President of Loyal. “When patients are looking for answers to their questions, a hospital’s website is one of the first places they turn. Having chat capability and the ability to disseminate an up-to-date message helps streamline the process and provide a positive overall experience during what can be considered a challenging time.”

By the time a new contract was ratified on April 10th, the chatbot had successfully handled hundreds of inquiries about the Anthem situation and directed many to the microsite for additional information. Every inquiry addressed through the chatbot meant one less phone call that had to be taken by the Piedmont call center, allowing agents to focus on more complex calls.

Fast forward to today and the Loyal chatbot has now been fully deployed across the entire Piedmont website. It handles upwards of 300 inquiries a day – almost quadruple the average daily volume from this time a year ago. In addition to handling common questions around scheduling an appointment, finding a doctor and providing directions, the platform helps to direct billing inquiries to the right agent for faster resolution.

Loyal and Piedmont regularly review the log files to find the next set of questions that should be configured in the platform. As it continues to grow in scope and capability, the platform is becoming more and more valuable to Piedmont patient and staff alike.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.