Verdict On The Chatbot: Does Your Clinic Need One?

Written February 22, 2018 by Meg Kramer

Chatbots have come a long way from their early days in the 1960s. You may already be considering using a chatbot to answer common questions and perform routine tasks. But does your practice really need one? Here are some questions to ask that could help you reach a verdict.

Chatbots have come a long way from their early days in the 1960s. Imagine that you have a patient who is worried about a symptom they’re experiencing. Normally, they’d just give you a call, but it’s late at night. Your office doors won’t open for hours.

They consider a trip to the emergency room, but decide to visit your clinic’s website first.

Within minutes, your chatbot answers their questions and sets an appointment for them. Your patient’s mind is put at ease, and instead of fielding an anxious phone call first thing in the morning, your front desk staff will be able to devote their energy to other things.

One of the first chatbots, ELIZA, was famous for a “doctor” script that mimicked the interactive style of a Rogerian therapist (we’ve touched on this before with our friends at Health:Further).

ELIZA was intended to simulate real conversations as a psychotherapist, but today’s chatbots are more service-oriented – and they could be poised to make a big splash in healthcare technology.

You may already be considering using a chatbot to answer common questions and perform routine tasks. But does your practice really need one? Here are some questions to ask that could help you reach a verdict.

Will a Chatbot Relieve Your Staff’s Workload?

There are plenty of workflow improvement studies done in the healthcare field, particularly about automating tedious admin tasks to streamline communication.

After checking their voicemail at the end of the day, clinics can find that 90 percent of messages are questions that could have been answered with an automated, self-help experience.

If the employees at your front desk are usually slammed with those frequently asked questions, a chatbot can really help to lighten their workload. For example, these three are probably pretty familiar to your front desk staff:

  • “What are your hours?”
  • “How do I pay my bill?”
  • “What insurance do you accept?”

The good news is that these are just the kinds of questions that are easy to streamline for automatic bot-powered responses. By answering general questions and performing routine tasks, automated communication can free up your staff to focus on their other responsibilities.

When you’re considering new tech solutions, it’s important to look at how it fits into your practice’s workflow as a whole. Without care and planning, new tech solutions can end up reproducing the very problems that you’re trying to solve.

So, how can you avoid using tech as a bandaid for systemic problems? An article from Physicians Practice recommends reviewing every single one of your processes – and being ready to make changes where they are needed.

Will a Chatbot Enhance Your Patients’ Experience?

The increasing use of self-service tools is a trend that you can see across many different industries. The common concern among practice managers is losing the “human touch” element of their experience. However, research has proven that consumers who have access to self-service solutions believe it enhances their experience.

You may already be using mobile apps to order and pay for coffee or burritos, or skip the line at the theater to print tickets at a self-service kiosk. There are even health assistant bots like Florence or Woebot, that remind people to take their medications or help them tend to their mental health.

But is all of this automation good for consumers?

In 2010, researchers at Harvard Business School studied one industry that has been transformed by self-service technologies: banking. Between the use of ATMs and online banking portals, more and more banking tasks are now automated.

The researchers came to a few surprising conclusions. First, they reported that customers who relied more on self-service technologies were less likely to leave the bank that they were using.

But they also found that when customers used self-service technology more than they interacted with human employees, satisfaction levels dropped.

For healthcare, the key is to use self-service tools to support your staff, rather than replace them. Shifting the busy work to the chatbot leave more time to devote to work that requires a human touch, allowing them to build authentic relationships with your patients.

Have You Researched Your Chatbot Options?

User experience is massively important for chatbot technology. In fact, 73 percent of consumers report that after a bad experience with a chatbot, they won’t use it again.

That statistic is especially important in a healthcare setting. If your patient has a frustrating interaction with your website’s chatbot, they may end up feeling like your clinic is indifferent to their request.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your chatbot is enhancing user experience, rather than detracting from it. Do your research on which chatbot you get to make sure you’re choosing the best solution for your clinic.

You’ve probably seen websites that have pop-up live chat windows for help requests. Some websites connect you to real people for live chat, while others use chatbots. If you choose this type of bot, you can either hire a developer to build it, or there are companies that help you build your own – even if you aren’t a computer programmer.

Some popular and top-rated chatbots run on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger or Kik. Still others are text-based, like Insomnobot3000, a chatbot designed to keep people company when they can’t fall asleep.

There are also email bots out there. Conversica offers an email-based “AI assistant” to support sales teams in industries like automotive sales and real estate, while Zendesk has unveiled Answer Bot, a customer-care bot for email.

Luma also has a Facebook chatbot--have you met JENNA? JENNA can schedule appointments, guide you through insurance verification, and confirm what services can be done, all via your clinic’s Facebook page (email us at support@lumahealth.io to learn more about JENNA).

Chatbots are fun and may be a welcome addition to your site. But before you commit, consider if this technology meets your needs, goes well with your website, and provides the best experience for your patients.

 

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Meg Kramer is a writer, editor and content consultant who specializes in health and wellness topics. You can find her at megkramer.com.