Rob Bennett, CEO of Rehab, discusses the current use of chatbots and voice technology in healthcare systems and where current opportunities are being missed
The current pandemic has pushed many businesses across different industries to reflect on and reconsider their relationship with technology, and how it can be better utilised to enhance consumer interaction. With all of us being confined to our homes, we have seen a surge in the use of innovative tech to help keep us connected, such as using voice and messaging experiences to help stay closer to our families, our favourite shops and the information from the government.
But voice technology and chatbots have the potential to advance and transform industries outside of the consumer space – such as healthcare. And while using such technologies is not entirely new to many healthcare businesses and professionals, COVID-19 has revealed the limitations of our current healthcare system and highlighted the areas that would benefit from more advanced technology.
Access to healthcare
At the moment, hospitals and healthcare centres are getting overwhelmed with enquiries from concerned patients and are unable to manage the high demand. We are already seeing healthcare systems turn to chatbots to support the interaction with patients, as they can handle all of the time-consuming, minor tasks, which then frees up staff to focus on more pressing patient needs. And with research showing that more than half of people are open to using voice assistants for healthcare in the future, these developments in tech are unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
The potential for voice technology could lead to even more effective healthcare in the public and private space. For instance, we’ve seen how services such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri have impacted the day-to-day lives of people living with disabilities. Using voice assistant technology could, therefore, help people with disabilities have better access to healthcare services and help them better engage with healthcare professionals and businesses.
And while we typically assume newer technologies are targeted at a younger demographic, we should also look into the ways voice technology can help an ageing population interact with healthcare businesses, such as helping with scheduling appointments, checking symptoms, and remembering medication schedules. 86 % of baby boomers, as an example, use a smartphone regularly, and according to voicebot, around 40% own a smartspeaker. The implications of this are huge, with accessibility being a great use case for voice technology, and smartphones become the gateway to remote telehealth services.
In general, the healthcare industry has struggled to get patients to engage in technology. Some of the reasons for this being a lack of trust or awareness – a common issue amongst elderly patients – as well as more people being increasingly concerned with sharing their personal data on unfamiliar platforms. On top of this, the industry has historically been more resistant to embrace newer technologies when compared to other industries such as entertainment, hospitality and retail.
The Financial Services industry was in a similar position until very recently but following the implementation of open banking, we’re now seeing a rapid acceleration of new services and ways to bank, all centred around the customer needs. With 72% of British UK adults likely to manage their current accounts with their phones by 2023, brands like Plum and Silo (a service run by the investment management business, Killik & Co) are helping people save in new ways using AI and machine learning. In the banking space, brands like Starling are setting a gold standard for digital banking experiences, with over 70% of users finding the service to be a positive experience. This shows a clear willingness for people (and businesses) to try and adopt new technology in traditional industries.
In the medical and healthcare space, organizations are teaming up with businesses outside of their sector to accelerate digital transformation using new technology. Novartis, for example, has created AI Nurse, a collaboration with Chinese giant Tencent to help patients and HCP’s to better manage heart disease. And we are also seeing this first hand, working with a global healthcare business to help develop new messenger and voice-based services to engage their customers. Technology is facilitating faster and more consistent customer service, 24/7, in a channel that provides real potential to scale across the globe. And in terms of the voice experience, this also addresses several areas relating to accessibility.
These are only just a few examples that demonstrate the potential and promise for the healthcare industry to find new and innovative ways to integrate tech into their ways of work and practice. Big and small players alike – from Babylon Health to Novartis – can benefit from using voice technology and chatbots. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp must not be overlooked either. We are speaking to several businesses that are exploring how consumer messaging platforms can help break down barriers relating to open and honest conversation – embarrassment, nervousness, or insecurity relating to healthcare care. I think this is where we’ll start to see some really interesting developments. Using platforms like Twiliio, businesses will be able to provide highly personalised, scalable conversations in a format and channel designed specifically for mobile.
With no real certainty of how long this pandemic will last, we turn to healthcare organisations for information, support and advice. Technology is important to help bridge the gap in communication between the industry and the people. So with other industries adapting and shifting along with these technological advances, why should an industry so fundamentally important be left behind?
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