We recently sat down with Kamal Anand, CEO & Co-Founder of Asparia to talk about healthcare chatbots and their recent rebrand from SimplifiMed to Asparia. If you’re interested in some of the latest practical AI that’s happening in healthcare, then you’ll enjoy learning about the healthcare chatbot work that Kamal and his team are doing at Asparia.
You just rebranded from SimplifiMed to Asparia. Tell us about why you changed the branding.
When we started the company, we were very focused on simplification of processes and activities – for the staff of healthcare delivery organizations and for patients. This was the basis of the SimplifiMed name. While the focus on simplification remains a core part of our DNA, we wanted to capture the broader aspiration, ambition and determination of the stakeholders, patients, healthcare delivery organizations and its staff, as well as our own founders and employees – in improving care and efficiency. We hope Asparia – derived from aspiration – captures that.
There are a lot of people talking about chatbots in healthcare, what does it take to create an effective healthcare chatbot?
A chatbot such as Asparia has two audience – patients and the clinic staff. So, a deep understanding of patient behavior, access and clinic workflows are needed to create effective healthcare chatbots.
For decades, patients are used to calling their providers office over the phone for a variety of needs. Transitioning them to use a voice or text-based bot is a behavior change and if you have read Nir Ayal’s book, Hooked, you know behavior change is not an easy task. On the other hand, given the increase in a provider’s patient base and the hefty workload on clinic staff, if a chatbot does not effectively reduce the workload on the clinic staff, it will be doomed.
I can’t help but ask the question everyone asks, will chatbots replace human workers?
There is an interesting Department of Labor graph that shows over 3000% increase in healthcare administrative staff since the 1970s. Why is that? The reason is that caring for patients is a complex activity and we have reached a breaking point in terms of staff workload despite this massive increase in staffing. What we observe from our customers is the use of chatbot reduces workload on the staff so that they are able to devote more time to activities that cannot be automated and contribute to direct patient care. We believe that chatbots will augment human workers and enable them to do what they set out to do – care for patients in a more efficient fashion.
Are chatbots as effective at humans? What are some of the results you’ve seen with healthcare organizations?
Earlier we discussed what it takes to create an effective healthcare chatbots and I made two points about patient behavior and workflows. You can think of it as a 2X2 matrix with dimension being “effective” and “ineffective”. Whenever you hit a combination of “effective-effective”, chatbots perform much better than humans. At Asparia, we are only focused on this combination and that is why our customers report up to 30 times ROI.
In addition, chatbots are available 24×7 making the office always open – providing a huge convenience to the patients, and they can execute high frequency, repetitive tasks efficiently and effectively. To give a simple example, a provider of ours wanted to reach out to his patients over 50 years of age and let them know about the new Shingrix vaccine. With a click of a button, the chatbot reached out to all eligible patients in his EHR, and allowed over 200 patients to self-schedule their appointments via text – with no human intervention. This technology enabled effective preventative care for a specified group of patients and also increased reimbursement for the clinic. A Win-Win. The already overburdened administrative staff did not have to pick up the phone and spend hours calling patients and coordinating with them to book appointments. That is, another WIN!
What’s your approach to integrating Asparia with EHRs? What’s the workflow between the EHR and your chatbots?
When we started the company, we began with a deep conviction that EHR are the single source of truth. And we have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep that conviction. For example, our customers demanded workflows that needed some new APIs from the EHR vendor. In theory, we could have developed a working product without EHR integration but that would have led us to “effective-ineffective” quadrant in the 2X2 matrix I described above. In such situations, we decided to wait for the EHR vendor to develop instead of offering a “non-integrated” product.
Which EHRs are you integrated with and what’s been your experience integrating with EHR software?
Asparia (previously SimplifiMed) was the first chatbot to debut on Epic. Your readers can learn more about our journey with Epic here. We are also integrated with NextGen, Athenahealth, Allscripts, Virence, and DrChrono.
Are the EHR APIs where they need to be? What more would you like EHR APIs to do that would provide even deeper integrations?
Over the last 5 years we have come a long way in this area, however, much needs to be done. To thrive in value-based care, health care delivery organizations need to take up population health in big ways. The API needed to support such needs are nearly non-existent. The good news is that EHR vendors are aware of this need and actively working on to deliver such APIs.
What’s on the horizon for what you’d like to accomplish with Asparia?
As a company, we have decided to focus on the operations side of healthcare delivery as opposed to the clinical side. This is for two reasons. We believe that patient risk for the clinic side of automation is high enough that FDA oversight is needed. Activities such as symptom checking and triaging are not a good fit for automation.
At the same time, we see an acute need to automate operational activities and existing technologies can support such automation. We are closely working with EHR vendors on some of these use cases and hope to announce them in the near future.
Our mission is simple. We want to automate all the repetitive or high frequency tasks that happen between the patient and front or back office staff of a healthcare delivery organization, to create a Win-Win-Win for the stakeholders: patients, providers and staff. We are passionate about simultaneously enhancing care quality, increasing utilization of the existing healthcare resources and lowering cost, and dramatically reducing the administrative burden on staff.