Chat bots are no longer the future, they are mainstream.
We ask our smartphones for directions, song lyrics and dinner ingredients – and our virtual assistant dutifully collects this information for us.
At home, we have connected home assistants that can perform the same functions and even operate appliances, lights and air-conditioning devices.
It should therefore come as no surprise to learn that chat bots are becoming more pervasive in the health sector.
Data has shown that the Global Healthcare Chatbots Market could reach almost USD 500 million by 2025, up from USD 88 million in 2016.
So what do chatbots mean for the health industry, now and into the future?
Chatbots have already touched on Australian health care through ‘Nadia’
Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was the first aspect of our health system to be touched by artificial intelligence and chatbots.
Academy Award winning actor Cate Blanchett was hired by the federal government as the voice of ‘Nadia’, the smart virtual assistant to help people navigate the NDIS website.
People with disabilities, community groups, carers, academics, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the Department of Human Services all came together to help design Nadia.
Nadia had a human looking avatar so your could look her in the eye, but perhaps the scariest twist was that she could look you in the eye as well.
By looking through a web camera Nadia could read human emotions to help deliver better experiences. Nadia was supposed to go live in 2017 for a formal trial but the project has stalled and the chatbot has yet to engage with the public.
Charles in charge of Medicare
The Department of Human Services already has four Microsoft Cortana-powered chatbots in use and now a fifth could be deployed to assist with the myGov government services portal.
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home device.
The chatbot will be named Charles and will assist customers with voice-activated navigation. Charles will also be able to provide information about creating an account, linking new services (like Medicare) and what to do if an account is locked or suspended.
What are the likely implications for our health care?
The future of artificial intelligence in healthcare is tipped to go way deeper than just menu navigation.
Can you imagine a chatbot ever becoming smart enough to provide medical advice? It’s already being trialed in the UK.
Britain’s National Health Service has rolled out a chatbot created by private organisation Babylon Health that will give advice and determine how sick you are. If you are sick enough, it will put you through to a virtual doctor (another chatbot) via your smartphone video.
In the future, this service could deliver reliable diagnoses, write prescriptions and provide specialist referrals.
It is all aimed at reducing the burden on the UK’s existing telephone triage hotline. Nations around the world are watching intently.
Australia is unlikely to follow suit in a big hurry. A similar app called Ada was produced in Europe and launched in Australia in 2016.
The Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of GPs voiced concerns then about its accuracy.
Some of the other chatbots that have already been released include:
- Safedrugbot: to quickly determine if a drug is safe to use while breastfeeding
- Izzy: a period-tracking and women’s health-bot that proactively asks questions and offers support
- Florence: a digital nurse that remind patients when to take medications
- Sensely: monitors your speech, text, images and videos and runs symptoms through an algorithm before delivering a diagnosis.
Artificial intelligence is also being expanded into the surgical theatre. In the near future we could see autonomous machines doing our surgeries for us … but that’s an article for another day.