Using Chatbots for Healthcare – What is a Medical Chatbot?

Last Updated on October 20, 2020 by Sean B

It shouldn’t be surprising that organizations are using chatbots for healthcare considering that the earliest chatbots were all closely tied to Mental Health in some way. What is surprising, however, is the direction that some of these Medical Chatbots have taken. Some chatbots for healthcare specialize in specific illnesses, others in specific patients, and some are generalists. Sounds a lot like how the Medical Industry is organized, doesn’t it?

As you read on, you’ll learn about some of the more interesting medical chatbots today, but first, we need to discuss what we’re talking about. But there are two questions I want to answer before we dig into the real meat and potatoes.

First, What is a Medical Chatbot?

The most complete definition of a Medical Chatbot includes a list of tasks that the chatbots can assist medical professionals with. But for the purposes of this article, I’m defining Chatbots for Healthcare as any chatbot that interacts with a person specifically about topics related to their health or for the purposes of treating or improving the person’s health. This means that a chatbot that is focused on any health-related topic qualifies in my mind as a Medical Chatbot.

Second, What are the Implications of Using Chatbots for Healthcare?

This is a question that I’ll tackle in greater detail in another article, but the main concern of any use of new technology in the healthcare industry is of course protecting the privacy of the patient.

In the US, this means that chatbot for healthcare must meet privacy standards like HIPAA, similar protections exist elsewhere. Ensuring any chatbot used to assist a person with anything related to their health is secure and resistant to hacking and cyber-attacks is critical.

Healthcare Robots that interact with the staff or patients are also chatbots for healthcare.

Interesting Chatbots for Healthcare

We’re not going to be talking about the standard ways chatbots for healthcare can help in a medical practice. You know, the obvious things like making appointments and providing an FAQ for patients may be helpful, but they aren’t necessarily different than what chatbots are used for in other industries. But Hospitals and Medical Practices have also started using chatbots for healthcare in some very interesting ways.

I think this is where things start to get interesting, when medical chatbots are used for important tasks like triage, performing an initial symptom check, or helping users to track their health or remind them to take their medications, or even make emergency calls when necessary based on integrations with other medical devices.

I’m going to focus on just a few of these innovative chatbots for healthcare that, at least in my opinion, move beyond interesting. The companies I’ll discuss below are using chatbots for healthcare in a wide array of areas of care including Dementia, Sleep, Mental Health, Cancer, and even Diagnosis.

Chatbots for healthcare can help keep Dementia Patients more active.

A Companion for Dementia Patients

There are an estimated 44 million people in the world with some form of Dementia, until her death a few years ago, my grandmother was one of them.

My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years back. Having watched her abrupt decline firsthand, I can tell you how hard it is to watch someone battle dementia, particularly someone you love. Alzheimer’s and Dementia steals the ability to communicate, sometimes it can be a slow decline, but it is still incredibly painful to watch.

Sadly, my grandmother couldn’t take part in important conversations as she neared the end of her life, but some individuals with dementia hold on to a little of their ability to converse as the illness advances. Despite the frustrations and disappointments that those with dementia can experience, they can have moments of clarity when they are able to talk with their loved ones normally.

Many with Alzheimer’s or Dementia deal with this cognitive decline. During these brief periods where they’re able to interact, those with Dementia get some relief from the loneliness and depression that their inability to remember and communicate can cause. This is one of the reasons the Russian company Endurance Robots created its robot-companion chatbot in 2017.

Chatbots for healthcare can gather information through their conversations with patients.

The primary function of the robot-companion is to be a virtual companion for those who use the chatbot. It engages them in general topics like the weather, news, and their hobbies. Like other advanced chatbots for healthcare, the robot-companion can ask questions and react to the answers. It can also connect to Google to provide information about nearly any topic the user is interested in.

But where the chatbot really shines is its ability to recognize deviations in conversational branches that may demonstrate an issue with quick memory – an interesting little trick for a NLP-based chatbot. The goal of the project is to create a series of diagnostic questions that an expert would be able to use to help diagnose Dementia earlier. Imagine the impact if such a tool was used widely in retirement centers.

Furthermore, since the chatbot is a cloud-based arrangement, doctors and relatives can audit correspondence logs taken from the bot to distinguish likely corruption of memory work and informative deterrents that could indicate declines in the patient’s condition.

The chatbot is also open source, meaning that anybody can add to the improvement of the bot’s codebase. The development is still in the early stages, however it could possibly provide researchers, specialists, and care groups with insight into how Alzheimer’s develops and progresses.

Insomnobot-3000 is a chatbot for healthcare focused on helping those with insomnia.

Helping Insomniacs Get Through the Night

If you suffer from a sleeping disorder, as I do, you’ll realize one of the most depressing thoughts you can have is that every other person on the planet is resting calmly while your own brain is double-crossing you. Not being able to sleep can also cause other health issues, so chronic insomnia can be a very serious problem.

Enter Casper’s incredibly named Insomnobot 3000 (which genuinely is one of the most bizarre and brilliant names for a chatbot I’ve ever seen), a conversational bot that provides sleep deprived people somebody to converse with while the rest of the world sleeps. So dedicated is Insomnobot
to this one specific task that it is only available for chats from 11pm – 5am, when those of us with Insomnia are sadly still awake instead of snoring and dreaming our way through the night.

You can text Insomnobot 3000 at 844-823-5621

There are several important Cancer-related chatbots for healthcare.

Helping Cancer Patients and Survivors Thrive

Cancer Patients and Survivors are already dealing with a lot, so anything that can be done to help them deal with the stress of managing their health. There are two chatbots for healthcare developed specifically to help those dealing with Cancer that I want to discuss.

The first is OneRemission, developed by Keen Ethics to help those dealing with Cancer learn more about their illness and about post-cancer health care. The chatbot targets the field of Integrative Oncology to assist patients as they work to meet their nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotional needs. OneRemission helps users gain confidence in handling some of these issues themselves instead of having to be in constant contact with a Doctor. The App can also connect users with an Oncologist for additional information as needed.

Cancer Chatbot is a simpler system and essentially gives patients and their loved ones’ access to resources via a Facebook Messenger chatbot. I wanted to highlight it because it shows that a simple chatbot can be incredibly effective and can do more than plug your own products and services.

Young Woman using Youper, a chatbot for healthcare focused on mental health.

Tracking Your Emotional Health with Chatbots for Healthcare

Youper is an interesting chatbot project that was created by a team of doctors, therapists, and engineers led by Dr. Jose Hamilton. The chatbot uses AI to try and understand users’ emotions and provides support based on that data. Youper can also track the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders as well as keep an online journal with the tool.

What I find most interesting about Youper is the use of what they refer to as “guided mindfulness” and the integration with the other proven methods of journaling and symptom tracking.

Woebot, a project from the UK’s National Health Service, is another interesting chatbot that monitors the users’ mental health with “a suite of clinically-validated therapy programs” which they claim address a number of mental health challenges including generalized anxiety, depression (including postpartum depression), and substance abuse issues.

While neither of these chatbots are meant to replace therapy, they certainly augment it. And in doing so they are helping increase access to care and reducing the stigma faced by many with mental health issues.

A young Doctor smiling

Your Own AI Concierge Doctor or Personal Nurse

These next chatbots for healthcare are taking a huge leap and act as AI versions of a personal physician or nurse. I’ll be covering these briefly here because what these medical chatbots do covers such a wide area.

Babylon Health is a subscription based online health service company that offers AI consulting based on your personal medical history. They can also connect you with a real doctor through the App. Their service has been used by the National Health Service in the UK since 2017 and is now available in the US as well. The Babylon Health chatbot acts as an intermediary between the patient and a series of other health tools, including one that lets the bot access a users’ complete health record.

Florence is a less involved chatbot that interacts with patients as a personal nurse. She works on Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Kik and handles tasks like medication reminders via text message and health tracking that lets users track everything from their mood, weight, and menstrual cycle, to more complex symptoms.

Sensely has created a virtual medical assistant named Molly, and it is one of my favorite chatbots on this entire list, it’s a multilingual platform that has access to the full content of the Mayo Clinic. This AI chatbot can assess a person’s health through the speech, text, images, and video. As you interact with Molly, or send images or videos to her, she interprets the data using the data available to her from the Mayo Clinic.

Molly also uses the standard triage system and colors that are used in Emergency Rooms throughout the US to decide whether an issue is something you can handle yourself or if you need to see a Medical Practitioner.

Another chatbot from Buoy Health that was developed by doctors and scientists at the Harvard Innovation Lab has done something similar using more than 18,000 medical papers. The data in these papers includes cases of more than 5 million patients and about 1,700 different medical conditions.

A Nurse drawing blood from a patient

Making Medical Diagnoses Faster

Like everyone else out there on the internet, one of my favorite ways to pass time online, particularly when I’m ill or the world is dealing with a horrible pandemic, is to profoundly misdiagnose myself with a variety of horrible diseases with the use of WebMD and similar websites. Since I suffer from insomnia, it’s regularly past midnight when this happens and my mind is already in a foggy and dark place due to the lack of sleep.

Anyway, in case you’re the type of person who has WebMD bookmarked for similar reasons, you may want to take a look at MedWhat or similar chatbots for healthcare that offer illness diagnosis. This chatbot attempts to make clinical decisions, including diagnoses, quicker, simpler, and more straightforward for both patients and doctors. Think of it like a chatty form of WebMD with access to AI and supposedly more medical data.

MedWhat is controlled by a refined AI framework that offers progressively improved responses to client questions as it learns by cooperating with people. The chatbot additionally draws on a massive volume of previous clinical examinations and peer-reviewed clinical papers to continually increase its knowledge.

MedWhat is a lot more like a virtual assistant (like Google Now or Siri) instead of a conversational chatbot, but it is continually learning.

In Conclusion

Chatbots for Healthcare, or if you prefer, Healthcare Chatbots or Medical Chatbots, are here to stay. The simplest of them does little more than help you make an appointment and set simple reminders for medication. But the more advanced chatbots for healthcare can help diagnose your illness, and then after setting your appointment with someone to treat your illness or injury, they can help you track your symptoms. They are also getting more advanced as their programs learn.

The next time you get sick, it might be time to try one of these chatbots and see how they can help.

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2 thoughts on “Using Chatbots for Healthcare – What is a Medical Chatbot?”

  1. I had no idea chatbots are being used this widely in health care! But now that I think about it makes perfect sense. I’ve been thinking about getting a chatbot for my small business but I had no idea where to start so your site has been a real gold treasure. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Chuck,

      Glad you’re enjoying the site!

      This is just scratching the surface. As chatbots move ahead, and the AI improves further, I think we’ll see them being used widely in Hospitals to help with diagnoses via imagine.

      Sean

      Reply

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