big phone chat bot
Artificial Intelligence Emerging Technology Medicine Physician

Physicians’ Perspective on Chatbots and Healthbots

on
February 21, 2020
Share this post now!
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The positive and negative views that physicians have for chatbots in medicine.


The development of chatbots is one of the most significant achievements of AI and machine learning. While several researchers have theorized the potential benefits of chatbots or healthbots, recent happenings in medical care show how they are making these theories a reality.

Intro – The Chatbot Market

The healthbot market is an experiencing influx of investors all thanks to the several benefits it can offer physicians and patients alike. The Global Healthcare Chatbots Market is expected to attain a size of $412.22 Million in 2024. This predicted market size comes with a CAGR of 24%, indicating a high performance and increased adoption of health chatbots by the general public.

Chatbot Market information
Global Chatbots Market 2018-2022 (Photo Courtesy of Businesswire.com)

At the time of writing this article, the role of different healthbots in connecting patients to healthcare providers has been discussed, thus making healthbots a realistic achievement.

The introduction of healthbots ushered-in a new level of patient-oriented healthcare delivery where the patient is more connected to healthcare providers than ever before.

There are debates around the safety of chatbots and possible dangers accompanying them as evaluated by physicians. These perspectives arise from the practical use of these virtual assistants, or chatbots for healthcare with several years of experience in the health sector. These perspectives (positive and negative) were published in a cross-sectional web-based survey on Physicians’ perspectives on Chatbots in healthcare. [1] 


Positive perspectives

Just like every other area of AI and machine learning in healthcare, Chatbots can assist physicians, nurses, patients and their families in improving the level of services delivered. This comes via the provision of help during emergencies, managing medications, improving patient organization pathways and many more. These activities are a burden to healthcare providers. The current applications and positive perspectives of Chatbots in medicine include the following;

Chat bot smartphone concept. Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Expertise Intelligence Learn
ValeriHadeev/Depositphotos.com

a. Scheduling Doctor Appointments

Chatbots can play an invaluable role in keeping the waiting line in hospitals decongested. The use of Chatbots allows patients to book an appointment with a doctor without having to visit the hospital. There are reports of Chatbots serving as an alternative solution to physician visits. This is because Chatbots may be better suited to meet patient needs since they exhibit no bias towards race, age, biological gender or color. They can work round the clock without getting tired. This makes them useful for patients who may have some medical concerns even when the doctor or hospital is not within reach. Their ability to communicate in different languages is also very important in meeting patient needs.

In terms of interaction, patients disclose more medical details to computers than human attendees. They interact with Chatbots with more sincerity since the machines are not judgmental or impartial in their dealings.

Some patients believe that by interacting with chatbots, they can get rid of the possible stigma attached to their medical condition. Chatbots like OneRemission have come in handy in assisting cancer patients in interacting with their oncologists continuously.

b. Locating health clinics

The first cases of chatbots were developed to assist customers in finding a service that meets their needs. Most clinics now have chatbots installed on their website to help visitors book doctor appointments and also obtain direction to the clinic. Chatbots can increase lead generation to physician websites and offer these visitors with top-notch health information.

c. Providing Medication Information

Gaining access to medical information is no longer limited to the four walls of the hospital. Patients can now gain adequate knowledge about their medical conditions by interacting with Chatbots. These bots can interact with patients, obtain the necessary information concerning their ailment, narrow it down to a specific disease condition and offer the best recommendations all on your Smart devices. You can check your symptoms online with Chatbots like Buoy Health, and Babylon Health. Bots like Safedrugbot can offer assistant-like support to health professionals and doctors who may need appropriate data on drug use during breastfeeding.

Negative Perspectives

Even with the level of success attained with Chatbots, there are grey areas that need to be amended if the future applications must be possible. These areas as identified by physicians include but are not limited to the following;

a. Cannot Effectively Care for All Patient Needs

healthbot
Viacheslav Besputin/Depositphotos.com

AI (not just chatbots) is inadequate in its ability to meet all patient needs hence the need for healthcare personnel to complement their activities. The sole aim of creating Chatbots is to give the patient a suitable alternative and not to take the doctor out of the equation. Chatbots are programmed to respond to only a particular algorithm, and anything outside this may produce little to no result.

b. Cannot Display Human Emotion

This has been the basis of debate, whether Chatbots and other AI-based processes can replace humans in healthcare delivery. The inability of computers to display human emotion is one of the reasons why patients prefer to disclose more information concerning their medical history and symptoms than when interacting with a human physician.

c. Cannot provide detailed diagnosis and treatment

While it is true that Chatbots can interact with patients and narrow down their symptoms to a specific disease condition, the level of effectiveness of these diagnoses is unknown. Some medical conditions may require an authorized laboratory result before treatment can commence. Medical diagnosis needs to be supervised by a human attendant and should not rely solely on an algorithm making an inference from previous data.

d. Increased Risk Of Self-Diagnosis And Self-medication  

Medical care has come a long way in fighting self-diagnosis and self-medication. The increased adoption of chatbots seems to be taking us back to where the battle began. With healthbots at their disposal, patients can now purchase medications or diagnose their conditions without having a physical consultation with qualified personnel for authorization.

Insight

Here’s the thing. According to several studies and trials, people with mental health issues respond well to chatbots. [2] [3]

The concept is that people don’t like being judged.

The thought of “being judged” still exists when speaking with a psychiatrist or psychologist, even if their purpose is to be emotionally non-judgemental. Studies show that people don’t hold back when talking to chatbots or robots. It is easy for users to divulge their darkest and deepest secrets without the fear of their secrets leaving that conversation.

Can you imagine a situation where patients with mental health concerns are always in the company of a chatbot? 

Doctors can feel a little more at ease knowing that their patients are never alone. Chatbots can be programmed to identify specific keywords that alert the physician or authorities of impending danger for the patient or others surrounding the patient. 

By now, you may have heard that social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram created algorithms to detect suicide and other mental health issues like depression. In this manner, chatbots can use the textual data acquired from masses of conversations with patients to provide similar insights. Of course, acquiring so much data will take time, but first, the movement needs to be initiated.

Chatbots allow physicians to track the progress of patients by continually checking-in. 

One example could be patients that have substance abuse disorders. A chatbot could ask if they used that day, can gauge the patient’s mood, and ask the patient about his or her environment to cue into external influences. 

With this information, physicians can chart the progress of a patient’s mental health daily and over time. Tracking patient progress would help indicate to physicians important information like the efficacy of SSRIs or when they start working. Physicians would be able to understand if the medication dosage prescribed is working appropriately, real-time. Psychiatric medications often take several weeks before they take effect, and choosing the right dosage is another measure that must be titrated according to each individual patient.

Chatbots are a useful tool, and we need to harness their real power to help patients as best as possible.

The concept is that people don’t like being judged.

The thought of “being judged” still exists when speaking with a psychiatrist or psychologist. Studies also show that people don’t hold back when talking to chatbots or robots. It is easy for users to divulge their darkest and deepest secrets without the fear of their secrets leaving that conversation.

Can you imagine a situation where patients with mental health concerns are always in the company of a chatbot? Doctors can feel a little more at ease, knowing their patients are never alone. Chatbots can be programmed to identify specific keywords that alert the physician or authorities of impending danger for the patient or others surrounding the patient.

Chatbots also allow physicians to track the progress of patients by continually checking in. One example could be patients that have substance abuse disorders. A chatbot could ask if they used that day and can gauge the patient’s mood. In this manner, physicians can chart the progress of a patient’s mental health daily and over time. Tracking patient progress would help physicians cue into things like when SSRI’s start working. Psychiatric medications often take several weeks before they take effect.

Chatbots are a useful tool, and we need to harness their real power to help patients as best as possible.

Hand holding smartphone with chatting bot application on the screen
Yuri Taran/Depositphotos.com

Conclusion

Chatbots are here to stay and are ready to bring a general improvement in our level of healthcare delivery. Although their ability to diagnose diseases and recommend a treatment plan for patients may be challenged, they serve as an invaluable tool for medical research by connecting doctors to patients and providing first aid care. 

Chatbots are applicable and helpful in many domains today, especially healthcare. Personally, I have a firm appreciation for the workload reduction they provide for physicians. This leaves more time with patients, and less time spent on administrative work.

REFERENCES

[1] Palanica A, Flaschner P, Thommandram A, Li M, Fossat Y. Physicians’ perceptions of chatbots in health care: Cross-sectional web-based survey. J Med Internet Res. 2019;21(4). doi:10.2196/12887

[2] Fitzpatrick KK, Darcy A, Vierhile M. Delivering Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Young Adults With Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using a Fully Automated Conversational Agent (Woebot): A Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Heal 2017; 4: e19.

[3] Tombs M. Sharing Secrets with Robots. AACE, http://www.editlib.org/p/147797/http://curve.coventry.ac.uk/open (2014, accessed 22 February 2020).


Leave a comment on your perspective of chatbots, or contact me if you have any questions regarding chatbots application in medicine. Don’t forget to subscribe on the right-hand sidebar of the homepage if you would like to see more articles like this.


Did you like this post?

Share this post now!
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
TAGS
RELATED POSTS

LEAVE A COMMENT