24th March 2021
Chatbots are artificial intelligence (AI) systems that digitally communicate through messaging and have radically evolved over the past 10 years into sophisticated and conversational technology, that is now bridging the social distance gap between organisations and their consumers. What previously was considered irritating tech that inhibited efficient communication is now a successful tool providing round the clock interactions, that 40% of internet users are choosing to engage with.
This intuitive software reduces operational costs for business at staggering rates, with Chatbot Life predicting this figure could soon be up to 37%, and is being developed to action a number of different roles within a company including customer service, payment processing and much much more. In fact, Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2024 worldwide retail spending through chatbots could reach $142 billion—up from 2019’s figure of just $2.8 billion, and their adoption could save the healthcare, banking, and retail sectors $11 billion annually by 2023.
So, what about the NHS?
In recent years, the adoption of virtual assistants in healthcare has fallen behind other industries, but when the pandemic stretched the NHS to its limits last year this clever machinery stepped up to support staff and relieve some of the workload, causing it to surge in popularity. From long term condition support, FAQs, appointment rescheduling, PIFU, PALS and staff wellbeing, they provide that real time, ‘on demand’ connection that patients experience as consumers. Insider Intelligence also suggests it’s possible that 73% of healthcare admin tasks could become automated by AI in the future.
Giving patients access to reassurance and answers 24/7 greatly improves care quality and patient satisfaction, with Drift highlighting that 37% of people use a customer service bot to get a quick answer in a crisis. This is demonstrated at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, where 23% of patients accessing their Covid FAQ chatbot did so out of normal operating hours, getting instant answers when they would usually have had to wait for a reply. At the first peak of the pandemic between March and June 2020, when they were already incredibly low on resources, this bot learnt the replies to over 200 of the most frequently asked Coronavirus health related questions and responded to over 1400 patients. This allowed those valuable hours of staff time to be refocused on urgent patient care.
Assisting patients to be active participants in their care
The benefits are not limited to the endless availability, although this is often ranked as their most widely known advantage with 64% of internet users saying 24-hour service is the best feature of chatbots. There are a varied range of reasons why people are crying out for virtual assistance, and why it could tackle some of healthcare’s most urgent challenges. For example, appointment rescheduling bots empower patients to manage their own care from anywhere with the ability to rebook for a time that suits them, without needing to wait in lengthy phone queues. In return, missed appointments are significantly reduced and staff are freed of repetitive admin work, including manually rebooking slots.
Chatbots consistently reduce inbound phone traffic wherever they are implemented, relieving staff of routine calls and questions and allowing them to spend more time on complex and urgent enquiries. A member of staff can also only speak to one person at a time, whereas this scalable mechanics can respond to every single question simultaneously, from 5 queries to 5000, with endless patience and the same consistent messaging.
These cyber interactions also give Trusts incredibly valuable insights into patient pain points and common queries, allowing them to quickly adapt and tailor their communications, therefore removing the need for any inbound contact on these matters in the future.
Implementing conversational AI is fast and simple, and immediately gives patients a trustworthy, verified source of knowledge, putting an end to widespread misinformation which has been a particularly prominent issue in healthcare over the past year. Once a chatbot is set up, the intelligent AI continuously improves and learns from each interaction, and Trusts can build upon the responses that have been curated to create a huge library of digital expertise.
As well as answering routine inquiries, virtual assistants also facilitate quicker access to care. At a time of never-ending waiting lists, bots can efficiently triage patients by asking clinic-specific questions, and instantly return responses to the hospital so they can be directed onto the right pathway. Multi-channel Patient Initiated Follow Up approaches are also supported by AI technology, enabling patients wishing to request an appointment to be asked set questions related to their condition, and feeding this information back to the Trust.
‘On demand’ expectations are shaping the future of healthcare
One of our conversational FAQ bots went live at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in March 2021 and within a couple of weeks, it saved the equivalent of 1,095 minutes of staff time on inbound calls. This was specifically designed to provide patients with instant answers to hospital visitor questions and routine queries, improving patient experience and reducing unnecessary inbound calls. Try it out for yourself or check out a demo.
Virtual assistants and chatbots are now well on their way to revolutionising healthcare communications, allowing organisations to provide a quick and engaging service, without having an adverse effect on precious staff time or vital patient care. The ability to gain a comprehensive understanding of patients thoughts and concerns around their healthcare can also inform development, and take the NHS into a new level of digital transformation. The more demand there is for chatbots in healthcare and the wider world, the more innovative they will get, thus encouraging a standard of 24/7 access to information in all organisations.
Healthcare Communications provides these helpful and intuitive chatbots to engage your patients in a friendly and humanlike way, with the ability to seamlessly transfer to another channel during the conversation, if required. To find out more get in touch on 0845 9000 890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.