Patients will soon be more likely to speak to an AI chatbot than a doctor or nurse as their first interaction with healthcare providers, according to Juniper Research.
The analyst company says that the healthcare sector will become a major user of chatbots, in areas such as patient diagnosis, patient information, and voice-capable digital assistants to support healthcare providers.
The increased adoption of chatbots will free up medical staff time and save countries' healthcare systems around $3.7 billion by 2023.
Juniper predicts that the number of chatbot interactions will reach 2.8 billion per year by 2023, up from 21 million in 2018. The company reports that the healthcare sector is one of the most relevant for the use of chatbots. These can be defined as ‘a computer program utilising technology designed to simulate conversational interactions with human users, which may also include automated processes triggered from these interactions'. Chatbots can be applied in both the diagnosis of ailments but also as a vital resource for patients learning to live with chronic diseases.
Juniper believes that there will be numerous health services utilising chatbots in the future, particularly in the area of ailment diagnosis. Several major health services, including the NHS, are seeking to launch mobile apps for this very purpose, with the aim of cutting patient waiting times at A&E (Accident & Emergency), as well as staffing costs.
The adoption of chatbots will ramp up in the future, due to citizens becoming more comfortable using chatbots to discuss their healthcare requirements; shortage of medical practitioners; more deployment of chatbots to manage customer experience; and increased sophistication of conversational AI platforms leading to a greater percentage of enquiries being completed entirely via chatbots.
The research found that the first priority for healthcare providers will be to ensure that the information collected is transferred to a person's medical record and other applications, such as appointment scheduling or for those for dispensing prescriptions. This means that providers of medical records and line of business applications will need to make their existing systems interoperable with chatbot providers.
Research author Michael Larner explained: "Chatbots have the potential to transform the way in which patients engage with their healthcare systems and go some way to take the pressure off overstretched staff. But if deployments are not backed up by investment in record keeping, then financial and time savings will evaporate".
Juniper also notes that digital voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri are opening up for third party development with the publishing of SDKs, which allow healthcare providers to create their own apps to run on top. Juniper says that there are already several use cases for digital voice assistants to support healthcare providers and patients, such as Microsoft's Aurora Digital Assistant, which helps patients to manage specific ailments, inform them of treatment options and book appointments with doctors.