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Healthcare CX Is Increasingly Fraught, but Speech Tech Provides an Answer

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From a customer experience (CX) standpoint, healthcare is potentially the most difficult industry to solve. Access for all, quality personalized care, and the availability of good information remain overriding goals. Yet complex rules and regulations, high costs, mergers and acquisitions, labor shortages, and siloed legacy systems and databases are just a few of the obstacles faced by healthcare providers striving for good CX. 

And the human side of the equation provides an added burden, as diverse needs span the demographic spectrum. The industry seeks to simultaneously cater to an aging consumer base that is increasingly isolated, and a younger, more tech-savvy set of consumers that are adept at self-help and desire greater control and sources of information. 

Speech technologies, including natural language understanding (NLU) and deep learning, are providing answers to all of these challenges, enriching self-help solutions for all ages. Next-generation interactive voice response (IVR) systems, virtual assistants, and bots are vital parts of a growing army of virtual workers that can accomplish myriad tasks in one interaction or across a customer journey. 

This virtual workforce is helping customers navigate the labyrinth of health and medical information and assisting with healthcare-related tasks such as appointment scheduling, prescription refilling, and patient advocacy. The technologies also are being used for proactive outbound interaction, such as reminding patients to take medications, adhere to post-surgical instructions, or participate in follow-up care, nutrition, or CX surveys. 

A new breed of healthcare bot, for instance, provides personalized interactive chat, with health assessments based on listening to patient symptoms and querying them for additional information to match symptoms to potential illnesses. Some apps learn as they go and make suggestions for next steps, such as route the user to healthcare professionals for further help, suggest additional information, or help book home healthcare. 

One of these, the AI-powered Ada app, has provided health assessments for more than 4 million users since she was launched in late 2016. Backed by a medical library, she queries and assesses (not diagnoses) a patient’s condition and keeps track of conditions for a user over time. Similarly, Baidu’s medical chatbot, Melody, and Sensely’s Molly use deep learning and NLU to interactively assess patient conditions and then connect them to the appropriate resource if desired. Molly also accepts images from a patient that can then be transferred to a healthcare provider if necessary. In addition, Molly can provide complete remote monitoring of several health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or congestive heart failure. 

While information-oriented bots are compelling if a customer wants information on unexplained symptoms, just providing an app that accesses a bot is often not enough if there is nothing to remind users to engage with the app. In response, providers are overcoming “app fatigue” by combining bots with messaging apps, which foster usage within environments familiar to customers. For instance, the interactive chatbot Florence is available on Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Kik, answering questions and connecting patients with healthcare professionals, reminding patients to take medications, and motivating them to adhere to health regimens. The application also provides health tracking features and goal setting. 

The company Betterise takes a proactive stance with a “one-stop health concierge” with highly personalized health monitoring. The mobile app delivers daily customized wellness tips and recipes, coaching programs, and an intuitive dashboard for easy health tracking. It also enhances CX by engaging with the user through features such as challenges, gamification, and synchronization of data from other health apps on connected devices, for better analysis and reporting. 

These types of bots and other virtual assistants are greatly supporting the trend toward improving CX through patient engagement, particularly as they are easily accessible on mobile devices. Proactive engagement, through features such as challenges and gamification, or the integration of apps with other devices such as fitness trackers, will only help to accelerate user adoption. 

Nancy Jamison is a principal analyst in customer contact at Frost & Sullivan. She can be reached at nancy.jamison@frost.com, or follow her on Twitter @NancyJami.

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