Chatbot Use During the Pandemic

Last Updated on September 27, 2020 by Sean B

Government Organizations typically run well behind the private sector with tech adoption, and chatbot use during the pandemic initially followed that standard. But as the pandemic worsened, more governmental institutions started using AI Chatbot technology to share important information about lockdowns and testing.

In my home state of Washington, the King County Public Health Department was overwhelmed with phone calls as the virus got worse in the Spring of 2020. Annie Kirk, a program manager at the KCPHD stated that, “In the early stages, we were getting questions about anything and everything.” At the time, Kirkland, Washington in King County was the center of the outbreak, and people needed information.

The Call Center for King County COVID response, staffed by nurses and volunteer medical professionals, was quickly overwhelmed and needed to focus on supporting patients who were being placed into quarantine. Annie Kirk worked with the IT department and a vendor to create a COVID-19 Chatbot that focused on easing the number of calls while providing the latest information to a needy public.

King County’s COVID-19 Chatbot used AI to respond to questions and helped Washington State come out of the Pandemic with a little more control than other states have experienced. The success that King County was noticed, and now 36 states are using chatbots to assist in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. The increased chatbot use during the Coronavirus pandemic has allowed these states to focus limited resources where they need.

A friendly robot representing chatbot use during the pandemic.

Adding Additional Services

The chatbots vary in effectiveness, but most states are using chatbots to answer not only questions about COVID-19, but to respond to inquiries about other areas that the Coronavirus Pandemic impacted. These include everything from the Unemployment Crisis many states faced to the reduction of services that the virus caused.

Estimates by NASCIO in a June 2020 report state that the chatbots responded to “millions of citizen questions” are likely very low. The best part is that as the chatbots are interacting with more users, they are learning.   

Assisting with Unemployment Claims

The NASCIO report went on to state that half of the states are now using chatbots. What’s more impressive is that their chatbot use during the pandemic has expanded to help with the unemployment crisis the pandemic caused. They are helping guide users through filing unemployment insurance claims and reducing the strain on already overwhelmed staffs that were dealing with a crisis unlike anything the country has seen in more than a century.

Texas

The Texas Workforce Commission had dealt with 98,000 claims on April 2nd as things shut down. They estimated that in just 56 days, they had dealt with a volume equal to three and a half years of claims in normal conditions. They worked with private sector partners to create a solution. In just four days, they introduced “Larry the Chatbot” who had answered more than 4.8 million questions from 1.2 million Texans as of June 24, 2020.

Georgia’s Approach

The state of Georgia has taken the approach of building a single chatbot to handle both Unemployment and COVID-19 Issues. Using QnA by Microsoft, they were able to get a solution up quickly to help them deal with the massive number of questions they were receiving. During the crisis, the number of questions received by the Georgia Public Health Department jumped from 5 thousand a day to over 5 million. 

The single chatbot approach ensures that the same answer is given no matter what website or App the user is on. Georgia’s chatbot is available on multiple sites, including the Georgia Department of Health, Department of Labor, the Governor’s website, and Georgia.gov.

Wider Chatbot Use During the Pandemic

On a National and Global scale, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are using Chatbots to share information, guide behavior, and even offer emotional support. While chatbot use during the pandemic has increased, there is a greater potential to implement the technology faster during future pandemics and natural disasters.

The CDC's Chatbot use during the pandemic includes Clara, who helps people self assess their symptoms.

CDC’s Clara

The CDC created a chatbot named Clara that built using Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot and is powered by their Azure Cloud Architecture. Clara assesses user’s symptoms and suggests the most appropriate action to them. She is not a diagnosis tool, but an AI Chatbot that helps users determine whether they need to seek medical treatment.

In a statement, Microsoft said that the Clara Chatbot helps analyze the cold and flu-like symptoms of users, this has helped keep frightened people from overwhelming the health systems during the Pandemic. 

WHO COVID-19 Chatbot

The WHO launched their own Facebook Messenger Chatbot to combat misinformation about the Coronavirus in April of 2020. The WHO Coronavirus Chatbot had reached over 12 million different people as of April 15, 2020 and it has the potential to reach more than 4.2 billion people through the various channels it’s available on. 

State Chatbot Links

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Please let me know if I’m missing any State Links in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Chatbot Use During the Pandemic”

  1. I think it is pretty amazing how useful chatbots have proven to be during this pandemic. They made life easier for many operators, taking off the workload and still being able to answer every inquiry and concern. I wonder how chatbots are used when people get overly emotional, is there then a way to connect with a human operator?

    Reply
    • Christine,

      Many chatbots offer live chat as a backup option, and some are monitored so a human can step in if anything goes wrong. For Pandemic related chatbots, the uses are pretty specific so anything outside of their programmed uses could be sent to a human for live chat as needed. I hope that answers your questions.

      Sean

      Reply

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