Healthcare Virtual Assistants: A Prognosis for Improved Patient Outcomes
In the realm of healthcare, technology has always played a significant role in improving patient outcomes, often by augmenting the capabilities of medical professionals.
Today, we’re witnessing the rise of a new player—Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly through AI-powered chatbots and medical virtual assistants.
While there are many ethical and data privacy considerations, healthcare virtual assistants are still bringing tons of value to the field of medicine. By bridging the gap between patients and healthcare, they promise to transform patient engagement and care delivery.
In this article, I will explore the current landscape, the pros, and cons of AI chatbots, and project into the future. Let’s dive right in.
Understanding healthcare virtual assistants
Picture a knowledgeable and attentive assistant, always ready to listen and respond to your healthcare concerns without any barriers. Healthcare virtual assistants are like the Siri or Alexa of the medical world.
They are sophisticated software marvels that leverage artificial intelligence to interact with patients and medical professionals naturally. Just like conversing with a friend, you can engage in open conversations with these digital companions, making healthcare interactions seamless and user-friendly.
One such healthcare chatbot is Med-PaLM 2, one of the best virtual medical assistant companies out there. It is an AI-powered system developed by Google researchers. If you’d like to learn more about it, tune in to EP 114 of The Harry Glorikian Show where I hosted 2 researchers from this infamous startup.
Current applications, benefits, and downsides
AI-powered chatbots and medical virtual assistants are already making waves in healthcare. With some noteworthy applications, they are set to transform the field of healthcare. Along with transformations, healthcare virtual assistants bring certain pros and cons.
Let’s talk about each of them and understand what AI chatbots are bringing to healthcare as a whole.
Current applications of healthcare virtual assistants
Although you might think that medical chatbots are mostly used for diagnosis, the truth isn’t so black and white. Healthcare virtual assistants can do paperwork, set appointments, create health reports, and much more.
I’ve identified 3 of the most noteworthy applications of AI in the world of medical virtual assistants in healthcare, so let’s see what we have here.
AI-powered chatbots like Babylon Health’s symptom checker uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand a patient’s symptoms and direct them to the appropriate care level. It eliminates the need for primary care staff by opening up the door to healthcare in a virtual way.
Mental health support
Woebot, a chatbot therapist, uses cognitive-behavioral therapy principles to help users manage their mental health. As a medical virtual assistant in healthcare, mental health support systems will definitely get the recognition they deserve in due time.
Medication reminders and health tracking
Medical virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can remind patients to take their medication and track health metrics. This completely automates the process of organizing your personal health by trusting the tech with responsible tasks.
At first glance, these are some great applications, but the benefits of these applications don’t stop there.
Benefits of healthcare virtual assistants
When speaking about a medical virtual assistant for healthcare, it’s clear that they have a couple of advantages over humans. Their tasks are automated, they can handle a way higher workload, and they don’t take days off. So, let’s see what the 3 main benefits of AI-powered healthcare assistants are.
Chatbots are available round-the-clock, providing constant support and information to patients, which is especially crucial in non-emergency but urgent situations.
An AI virtual assistant in healthcare is always there to support you and give you the information you need to take care of your health.
Virtual assistants can handle multiple inquiries simultaneously, an impossible task for human healthcare providers. They don’t get tired, they don’t get overworked, and they can multitask to an extreme degree.
Improved Patient Engagement
By offering quick responses and personalized interactions, AI aids in keeping patients actively engaged in their health management. Ultimately, healthcare virtual assistants make patients want to track their health and get healthy.
Potential downsides of healthcare virtual assistants
Alongside all of these amazing benefits, AI-powered healthcare chatbots still come with some concerns. How can you trust that a medical virtual assistant won’t give you false information? Can a chatbot be as smart as a doctor? Let’s check out the 3 biggest disadvantages of AI healthcare chatbots.
Dependability and accuracy
AI can make mistakes. For example, if a chatbot misinterprets a patient’s symptom, it could lead to improper triage and potential harm. That’s why any AI chatbot you encounter today will have disclaimers about how you should only use it for educational or informational purposes.
Privacy and data security
As virtual assistants collect sensitive health information, there’s a risk of data breaches. This privacy and data security concern relates to all AI and big data systems, and virtual assistants are no exception. After all, big disclaimers will not stop everyone from sharing personally identifiable information with chatbots.
Lack of human touch
Healthcare is a deeply human field, and AI cannot replicate empathy and human connection, which are crucial in patient care. Humans also possess critical thinking skills which are vital to accuracy and personalized care in healthcare.
Considering all these applications, benefits, and disadvantages, let’s now project into the future and contemplate the role AI will have in guiding the personalized medicine revolution.
The role of AI in shaping the future of personalized medicine
As we project into the future, we can expect a more integrated role for AI in healthcare. This transformation will have both short-term and long-term effects, so let’s take a closer look at what I believe will happen to the narrative.
Integration of AI chatbots into Electronic Health Records (EHRs) could be widespread, allowing them to provide personalized health recommendations based on the patient’s medical history. These virtual care assistants will be beneficial not only to doctors but patients as well.
With advancements in AI, chatbots could be capable of more complex patient triage, reducing the strain on healthcare professionals. Ultimately, healthcare digital assistants will take care of more redundant and straightforward tasks so that doctors can focus on complex decisions.
2035 and beyond
Combining genomic data and AI could enable chatbots to offer personalized prevention and treatment strategies, heralding the era of precision medicine.
Despite the challenges, AI-powered chatbots and medical virtual assistants hold substantial promise for improving patient outcomes. With careful development and ethical considerations, they could transform the future of healthcare.