What can a chat bot do?


APA Innovation Advisor Barry Nguyen explains how this particular digital tool might affect physiotherapy in the future.

Chat bots are becoming commonplace in society, and are often used for virtual assistance, marketing, customer support and technical troubleshooting. This technology is emerging with many start-ups in healthcare and is being used for patient symptom checking and triaging, pre-consultation history taking, and even assisting patients with common mental health conditions. The most popular chat bots currently in the market include virtual assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, and via messaging apps such as Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, WeChat and independent website landing pages.

So what exactly is a chat bot?

A chat bot is software, or a combination of software and hardware, enabled by varying levels of artificial intelligence that can conduct a conversation with a human user via auditory or textual approaches. They are designed to simulate human conversational behaviours.

There are potential benefits:

  • keep up with the latest trends
  • improved customer satisfaction
  • improved patient engagement
  • diversify range of touch points
  • improved lead generation
  • reduced operational costs
  • improved consumer data insights.

And there are risks and limitations:

  • limited queries can be answered
  • chat bots can only deal with one question at a time rather than multiple ones
  • a chat bot’s effectiveness is determined by how sophisticated its natural language processing capabilities are
  • the tech-illiterate population, particularly the elderly, may be uncomfortable with using one.

Application in physiotherapy

There is an increasing number of reasons for combining physiotherapy and chat bots and as the chat bot technologies improve, this will continue to increase. There are a number of emerging chat bot solutions that the physiotherapy industry are incorporating, for example, improving website user experience, and the provision of injury-related advice to patients (eg, Physio Phebe and Physiobot).

The future

As chat bot technologies become more mature and sophisticated, we will likely see more solutions in the market that can provide new value to physiotherapists and their patients. This will most likely begin with a surge of solutions, assisting physiotherapists with administrative burdens through intelligent automation.

Artificial intelligence and machine-powered solutions also have the potential to support physiotherapists with practitioner-to-patient communications, data collection, clinical decision-making, symptom checking, health coaching, and patient triaging. The future is bright because such solutions will enable physiotherapists to focus on more complex work and patient care.

Recently, Amazon in the US announced that its virtual voice assistant Alexa will be Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliant and will be conducting pilots in the healthcare space. This will enable consumers to do tasks such as making appointments with their doctors, and even access post-discharge instructions from their hospital via voice recognition.

Yes, chat bots are likely to kill menial jobs in the longer term but are also likely to produce new ones that allow humans to be more productive, creative and, ultimately, add more value to the world.

Email barry.nguyen@australian.physio with any regarding this article.


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