Medical Chatbot: Let’s Chat-A-Bot it

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Like most grown adults, I hate hospitals.

But it isn’t just the stale food, the fact that they remind me of my impending old age, or my fear of needles and drug-resistant killer viruses that put me off. It’s something simpler than that.

Hospitals are woefully inefficient.

Take the following as an example.

While the healthcare industry is rife with tales of terror, none are as menial, but as deadly as the necktie. I’ve always maintained that ties are the most pointless pieces of attire in clothing, serving no functional purpose besides the purely cosmetic. I believe ties to be nothing more than decorative camouflage for my business suit; designed to shield my middle-aged male physique, with my shrinking shoulders and protruding paunch, stopping me from feeling sufficiently self-conscious to hit the gym.

But if you’re a doctor, you might share my hatred for the accessory, as the harms of wearing a tie to a hospital are much more sinister.

Neckties are Medical Nooses

Sounds about right.

In a paper titled “ Doctor’s Neckties: A Reservoir for Bacteria.” written by the American Society for Microbiology, Steven Nurkin, one of the head researchers of the study, sampled neckties worn by physicians, physician assistants and medical students at a teaching hospital in New York. As a control group for the study, they also sampled neckties worn by security personnel at the same hospital.

In the study, they found that nearly half (47.6%) of the neckties worn by clinicians were found to harbor potential disease-causing bacteria.

The odds of a clinician wearing a necktie harboring pathogens were 8-fold greater than that of the control group.

The United Kingdom has followed suit, with health officials banning ties, along with jewelry and long sleeves from their hospitals. Officials hope the ban will slow the spread of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a superbug that accounts for more than 40 percent of inpatient blood infections in the U.K.

I’m sorry, but can you imagine going to a state-of-the-art hospital, complete with a spectrum of diagnostic and therapeutic technology, Tesla Digital MRI scanners, voice-modulated integrated operating theatres and a 256-slice Brilliance iCT scanner, only to be killed by the piece of silk hanging off a slightly self-conscious doctors’ neck?

So who’s fault is it?

If I’m being honest though, we really entirely can’t blame doctors or nurses or hospitals for this faux pas. Working in a hospital, on any level, is unbelievably difficult.

The hours are long and painful, the work is gut-wrenching, the student bills are nothing short of preposterous, and that’s before we arrive at doctors’ mental health and fatigue.

Doctors have to come to terms with death on a daily basis, so maybe it’s not surprising that nine of 10 doctors discourage others from joining the profession, and that over 300 physicians commit suicide every year.

Imagine finally “making it” but hating what you do, whilst a quarter Mil in student loans sits in your rear-view mirror.

A lot of this strain undoubtedly comes from the absolute focus and attention to detail that being a medical professional demands.

What’s the cost of fatigue?

Doctors protesting the NHS’s time hikes.

Doctors, unlike most other professions, can’t take it easy on a given day. Every single patient is unique, no matter how boring the symptoms appear on the surface.

Each result has to be stringently monitored, examined, documented and codified, increasing the administrative drain on the medical staff, hindering them from spending time and energy on otherwise more important responsibilities.

There’s been nothing that can ease this burden on doctors because there’s simply been nothing that could match their expertise or intellect.

Until now.

We all know that Artificial Intelligence is the future, even in the pharmaceutical industry.

Over the past couple of years, AI has bagged all the big headlines in the pharma-tech world. Google, launched its Google Deepmind Health project, which is used to mine the data of medical records in order to provide better and faster health services. Watson for Oncology has an advanced ability to analyze the meaning and context of structured and unstructured data in clinical notes and reports that may be critical to selecting a treatment pathway. GlaxoSmithKline unveiled a new $43 million project to harness modern supercomputers and machine learning systems to predict how molecules will behave and how likely they are to make a useful drug, thereby saving time and money on unnecessary tests to speed drug discovery.

While the tools for self-diagnosis have been around for years, they’ve never really caught on, the running joke being that any symptoms you enter into WebMD diagnoses you with cancer.

But Chatbots are interactive.

Most companies engage in passive interactions with their customers, via little more than unaided website surfing. And while there have been attempts to provide information through other outlets, this mostly exasperates the problem because of a lack of synergy between applications.

Web forms are not only hideously infuriating and limiting for customers, they’re also notoriously un-interactive. The average response rate on a form is 3%, while companies report that the response rate shoots up to 20% for companies that use a medical chatbot.

Beyond increased responsiveness, a Medical Chatbot makes great fiscal sense too.

Juniper Research forecasts that this technology could save pharmaceutical companies and hospitals $8 billion annually worldwide by 2022, up from $20 million this year.

The Medical Chatbot

A stream of companies have undertaken the challenge to bridge this gap, doing everything from helping customers book appointments with doctors or operating like pseudo nurses. Below are a few companies that directly deal with the medical chatbot industry –

  1. Florence — this chatbot nurse tells you to take your medicine, gives you instructions if you forgot to take a pill, monitors your health (and periods for women) and can help you find specialists and book appointments in your area.
  2. Your. MD — it replaces the assistant of a GP, asks about symptoms and puts enough questions approved by health professionals to identify a condition probabilistically then sets up appointments, referring you to physicians.
  3. Babylon Health — another conversational healthcare assistant with the feature of booking a doctor.
  4. SimSensei — still in its experimental phase, it uses voice and face recognition to mimic a therapist, also interacting with the patient at deeper levels.

So, while this is great news for hospitals and patients alike, it’s even better for doctors.

Take, for example, the simple task of scheduling appointments. Patients can pre-emptively provide information to the bot, that their bed-side nurses or doctors will use to reduce unnecessary readmissions and organize post discharge follow-ups.

Alerts are an intrinsic function of a Medical chatbot too. Chatbots can signal hospital staff if patients need assistance and even inform care teams of urgent changes in a patient’s status or in an emergency situation.

What does this mean for us?

Chatbots can also play a ground-breaking role in synergizing front office healthcare; they can streamline admissions, discharge, and transfer requests, schedule patient consultation requests and send and receive referrals. Chatbots are programmed to facilitate collaboration between peers and update record systems with patient’s medical history, send alerts and notifications for prescription refills. No longer will a patient turn up at a consultation only to find their notes have not been provided, chatbots will automatically send relevant training material, patient history, and pertinent data to the necessary parties ensuring the smooth running of the entire process.

And while it may seem nearly impossible to integrate information sources, chatbots can create a single system of records by transferring data from legacy systems to new databases, saving the systems time and money.

Chatbots can save thousands of working hours a year for hospitals and doctors, leading to both cost savings and a better quality of service for the user.

Want a better chance to survive your next visit to the hospital? Tell your doctor to stop wearing ties and tell your hospital to start using a medical chatbot.

About the author

Anush Fernandes

Loves canines, conversational automation and curry. Stephen and otherwise.