How IVR with a Human Touch is Changing Healthcare

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IVR systems have been used for many years for patient support, with automated calls used for appointment reminders, to provide basic information and similar uses. Due to the cost-savings from using automated systems rather than live staff making those calls, healthcare systems have expanded their use of IVRs to facilitating a widespread community message regarding the measles outbreak, to gathering top-of-mind patient feedback and other uses, says Freddie Feldman, Wolters Kluwer Health voice design director.

While the IVR systems delivering the above services tend to have very synthetic, robotic voices, a human voice can make these systems much more effective, according to Feldman.

IVRs with a Human Touch

Rather than using the automated voice for its IVR recordings, the company has instead hired a voice actor to record hundreds of personalized care messages, finding that patients are much more receptive to these calls and are much more likely to follow any advice that is offered. To date, hundreds of different messages have been recorded, which are delivered depending on the prompt the patient uses, with many more recordings planned.

Better automated interaction is particularly important for newly discharged patients, who often need very close attention to follow-up appointments, medications, etc., after leaving the hospital, according to Feldman. Often there are a series of calls over several days. The cost of paid staff to make those calls would be prohibitive, but the health care provider wants to ensure that the patients follow the prescribed care.

A personalized, thought-driven human voice creates a sense of empathy that patients respond better to, according to Feldman. “We used a team of voice designers to script the calls.” 

In addition to the scripting, the tone of the calls was important to get positive patient interaction, Feldman adds. The actor-voiced recordings, the messages sound very knowledgeable, but not authoritarian. Though the Emmi system can carry on an interactive conversation with a patient, and offer reminders of medications, confirms appointments and reminds patients of follow-up care, it will also instruct the patient to contact a health care practitioner for actual medical advice.

“It’s not designed to act as a medical clinician,” Feldman says.

As a result of a natural, empathetic human voice, the patients are more comfortable, so more likely to discussing embarrassing/sensitive topics with the human-led IVR, according to Feldman. Additionally, patients lie less and inaccuracies are reduced with a human voice as opposed to a synthetic voice.

The IVR allows for longer patient interactions (with an Alexa or Siri, the interactions that work best are short), according to Feldman.

Using IVR for Preventive Care and More

Beyond following up with current patients, the IVR can also be used to promote prevention programs. For example, the IVR was used to ask more than 4,500 women in the Greensboro, N.C. area if they had been given a recent mammogram, offering them the chance to schedule one through a “real” person at the doctor’s office. Nearly one-third of the women who interacted with the call had a mammogram within the next four months.

When necessary, patients can request IVR messages to be repeated.

The company expects to expand on the personalized IVR features in the future, offering an increased number of customer-oriented scripts and Spanish language translations as well as more robust natural language processing, infusing more intelligence into the calls. 

In late September, Wolters Kluwer Health introduced its clinical natural language processing solution, designed to help support the IVR and related systems.

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