Four Ways Conversational AI can Improve Patient Communication During the Delta Surge

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By Callan Schebella, EVP Product, Five9 

As the Delta variant continues to bring uncertainty around the safety of in-person gatherings, enhanced communication will continue be a key part of the battle strategy for healthcare providers. Patients have questions about vaccine eligibility, dosing schedules, effectiveness, and safety. They need to book appointments and find their nearest testing sites, and they want to do it in a frictionless way. They are looking for the fastest, easiest way to get the information and services they need – and they will likely try more than one communication channel to get it.

Healthcare organizations will need additional resources to respond to the surge of incoming questions and proactively communicate the latest information. Deploying a “digital workforce” of Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) can help providers carry the load, especially in an environment where hiring is becoming more challenging on a daily basis. 

IVAs are automated self-service applications that allow providers to quickly scale their staff without onboarding new employees or outfitting additional workstations. Powered by artificial intelligence derived speech technology, IVAs can help you handle high volumes of routine conversations and tasks across voice, chat, and text channels. They are also HIPAA-compliant and can collect sensitive patient data without revealing any of that information to a human staff member. 

The latest technologies allow IVAs to be deployed much faster than you might imagine, especially if the IVA software includes a library of pre-configured applications. These applications serve as templates that can be easily customized to integrate with virtually any back-end system or database using pre-built connectors or APIs. This makes it easy to quickly launch and update the applications.

Let’s look at four IVA use cases that can help providers improve patient communication during COVID surges.

Frequently Asked Questions 

IVAs use Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, which allows patients to ask questions in a conversational manner – in hundreds of languages – and get quick answers 24 hours a day. Using text-to-speech technology, IVAs make it easy to update questions and answers as information changes, allowing providers to simply type the updates in the IVA software’s Q&A database, rather than re-recording prompts. More advanced IVAs can tap into AI-powered search technology to retrieve information from anywhere in your organization’s data, including knowledge bases, FAQ documents, and supporting web links.

Plus, most IVA software provides detailed reporting, automatically transcribing and logging what patients say during their self-service conversations. This helps organizations discover additional questions that they can automate to increase efficiencies. 

Appointment Scheduling and Reminders   

One of the most common use cases for IVAs in healthcare is appointment scheduling. For example, Covid Clinic, the largest COVID testing center in the United States, allows patients to schedule an appointment by speaking with an IVA, which is integrated with their calendar system to fulfill booking, cancellation and rescheduling. Using SMS, the IVA also sends confirmations and appointment reminders to the patient to help reduce no-shows. A recent review of research on the use of reminder messaging systems in an ambulatory care setting found a significant reduction in missed appointments, with most studies producing a 5-10% decrease. Additionally, Covid Clinic is estimated to save more than $2 million dollars by utilizing IVAs to offset their incoming call volume.

Office/Practice Locator 

The Covid Clinic appointment application also allows patients to find their nearest testing location by providing their ZIP code. The matching location information is then played back to the caller or shared via SMS. 

By tapping into mapping/location based data, IVAs can also enable patients to geolocate based on their address or nearby landmarks (“I need the testing center that is closest to Penn Station.”) The IVA can ask follow-up questions if necessary to confirm the address and share directions to the nearest or most optimal clinic or vaccination center.

Outbound Notifications

By integrating with patient contact lists, IVAs can help providers streamline proactive communication around booster shots, the arrival of test results, or important changes to office hours, services and safety procedures. Many healthcare organizations also use automated outbound alerts for pre-screening questionnaires or payment collections. 

Not only do outbound alerts free up staff for more complex conversations and activities, they also help patients better manage their care. For example, studies have shown that proactive alerts are effective in enhancing patient compliance with preadmission protocols. 

With the need to adapt quickly to each new phase of COVID and provide effective communication to patients despite an already stretched staff, it’s no wonder that 70% of healthcare providers agree that intelligent self-service automation has been a path to greater agility during COVID-19. In addition to easing the current situation, it is anticipated that many of these automated services will become the “new norm” as patients get accustomed to the efficiency they provide. 

Where are you on the path to creating a frictionless healthcare experience for your patients?

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