Although it’s often called a new technology, chatbots are really nothing new. In fact, they have been around for decades (over 40 years to be precise).
In the mid-1960s we had an AI psychotherapist called Eliza and in the following decade, we had Parry, a bot that could mimic schizophrenia.
So why is everyone from Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella to Facebook’s head of messaging products David Marcus buzzing about them? The answer lies in a change of perception that happened recently.
According to Nadella, “chatbots are the new apps” and this technology is now viewed as threads. It’s seen as a new and important human/machine interface that can revolutionize the industry.
So what does this mean for eHealth? Go ahead, take a minute to think about the potential here...
Whether it’s healthcare or any other business, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to disrupt every industry. But healthcare, in particular, may see the greatest paradigm shift. This is because AI’s influence can be far reaching from helping to detect diseases at a rate that’s not humanly possible to image-recognition apps.
Last year, 15% of all equity deals for AI in healthcare accounted for artificial intelligence startups. Some of these venture capitalists backed startups are:
- Deep Genomics
Some startups have already started utilizing intelligent machines to redefine the role of a practitioner, redesign clinics, and reposition the patient in terms of their own health. As a result, chatbots have a huge potential to bring about unprecedented care to people around the globe.
Chatbot’s Role in eHealth
If you look at the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship, it hasn’t really changed for centuries. When one gets sick, they go to a clinic and tell the medical professional what their issues are. The doctors then ask questions, check vitals, probe a little, offer a diagnosis, and then write a prescription.
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The patient will be suffering and the doctor will show compassion, but in reality, physicians don’t have much time and patients tend to be impatient. Further, patients who don’t have any serious ailments can waste the doctors’ time when a day’s rest would have sufficed. These individuals are also known not to follow through with the treatment.
Chatbots are now intelligent enough to answer a patient’s questions just like a real doctor. As a result, utilizing AI can reduce the number of unnecessary consultations. So it makes sense to develop AI that can engage with a patient just like a physician and help build an advanced patient data model.
As there are already extensive databases that can be used to link the probabilities between symptoms and conditions, machine-learning algorithms can be used by chatbots to access data and communicate it with the patient in natural-language.
Imagine, it could almost be like a super doctor with an AI network wired like a doctor’s brain. Further, it can ask questions that are personalized depending on age, gender, and location. Then the chatbot will access an expansive medical map and determine the probabilities of the symptoms relating to certain conditions.
Once an informal diagnosis is made, the system can then make recommendations of doctors that they can visit in the area and even schedule an appointment.
Will Medical Chatbots Mean the End of Doctor-Patient Relationship?
A lot of doctors are not optimistic about the possibility of medical chatbots to play a major role in healthcare. But their fears are unfounded as a chatbot will never replace a human practitioner.
Although AI can be utilized to go through billions of variations of symptoms to make suggestions quickly, it can’t communicate with people effectively in this scenario (at least, not yet). This is mainly because people describe their symptoms based on their own personalities and frame of reference. So human intuition will continue to play a vital role in making a diagnosis.
As a result, you can say that AI still has a long way to go before it can be relied upon completely. This is because currently there are chances for a serious diagnosis to be missed and there is also a potential for an incorrect diagnosis. But this can change in the future as the technology evolves (though it will also depend on regulations).
But realistically, I think we can expect algorithms to play a role in systematic tasks in the long run. This will free up practitioners to just focus on their human intuition and patient interaction.
Medical chatbots are already available and playing a role in eHealth. China’s largest search engine Baidu launched an AI-powered chatbot last month to field medical questions and suggest a diagnosis to practitioners.
It’s basically a new feature in the Baidu Doctor app that was released last year. The chatbot is called Melody and she’s equipped with advanced deep learning and natural-language processing technologies. It was developed to be the first port of call for any individual who isn’t feeling well.
These days, building a chatbot is getting easier, so we can expect to see a lot more chatter in this niche in the months to come.