How COVID-19 Drove Patients to Healthcare’s Digital Front Door

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By Israel Krush, Cofounder and CEO, Hyro

Among the multiple seismic changes to the healthcare industry over the past year is the accelerated shift to the digital front door. Before the pandemic, companies like Apple, Amazon and Netflix began to set the standard for end-to-end digital experiences, no matter the industry. Consumers began to expect convenience, speed, and personalization, whether shopping for a new mattress online or booking a doctor’s appointment. Healthcareproviders started to understand that the digital front door offers them an omnichannel engagement strategy to interact digitally with patients outside of point-of-care, using modern technology to improve the patient experience at every touchpoint.

When COVID-19 hit, the importance of the digital front door across healthcare organizations was amplified as concerned individuals flooded websites, call centers and social channels in search of trustworthy resources about the new and devastating pandemic. As COVID-19 mandates were introduced and updated, and vaccines became available, patients continued to overwhelm these communication channels looking for information and guidelines that were ever-evolving. 

In order to maintain quality care while freeing up resources during a time that was immensely stressful, leading health organizations such as Novant Health, Weill Cornell Medicine and others required an easy to implement solution that could automatically address FAQs about COVID-19 and schedule vaccine appointments. Many implemented conversational AI platforms. 

Commonly mistaken for traditional, rule-based chatbots, conversational AI uses backend systems (machine learning, natural language understanding, etc.) to analyze a user’s input and understand their needs in order to communicate in a more spontaneous and intuitive manner, right at the digital front door. Rule-based chatbots, on the other hand, are only capable of carrying out limited conversations and can interpret a limited amount of vocabulary because they follow predetermined conversational flows based on the “if x, then y” formula. For example, a chatbot can communicate if an individual is eligible for a vaccine, but unable to schedule the first appointment and follow-up shot, or answer related questions to ease concerns. 

An additional difference is conversational AI’s ability to scrape data from sources 24/7. Chatbots require continual and costly manual maintenance so that conversational flows remain useful and effective, as opposed to conversational AI interfaces that feed off websites, text corpa, databases, APIs and other sources. Because these sources are always being updated, conversational AI’s ability to constantly scrape these sources is absolutely crucial in ensuring only the most up to date and accurate information is being provided to patients. 

The inherent automatic data updates that advanced conversational interfaces feature became even more crucial during COVID-19. As the world-at-large began to learn more about the virus, its side effects and how it was being transmitted, organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organizations (WHO) and others were constantly updating guidelines and policies. A healthcare provider using conversational AI technology was able to ensure it was offering its patients the most accurate and updated information because of the interface’s ability to tap into the CDC’s website and update itself accordingly in real time. Those relying on rule-based chatbots, however, would manually have to implement and update the new source material, making those chatbots even more costly considering how often guidelines were changing. 

Beyond addressing FAQs and providing patients with the most accurate and up-to-date COVID-19 resources, cutting-edge healthcare providers like Novant Health used conversational AI to automate vaccine rollouts. Whereas chatbots can only operate through text commands, conversational AI offers voice communication, so patients were able to schedule vaccine appointments in seconds by calling a virtual agent with the ability to recognize and grasp the finite nuances of the human language, filled with slang, synonyms, homonyms and jargon. Since conversational AI interfaces are able to understand and interpret eligibility requirements, healthcare providers were able to automatically schedule vaccination shots, address any questions, and even deliver reminders about second shot appointments and check-in to make sure patients weren’t suffering from side effects via text messages. 

As the pandemic struck, human agents became overworked because they were faced with unpredictable call volume upticks and high stakes calls, which diluted the quality of service healthcare organizations were able to provide their patients. At its core, conversational AI is designed to handle day-to-day queries and tasks that can quickly wear out humans in large quantities because conversational AI platforms can offload repetitive tasks from human agents such as scheduling appointments and troubleshooting recurrent issues. This allows human agents to focus on more complex, sensitive assignments, so there is no need to be concerned about widespread adoption of conversational AI replacing humans. The truth is that at its best, it serves as an amplifier of their capabilities.

The pandemic made health organizations realize the importance of the digital front door. Patients, now more than ever, expect insightful, dynamic communication regardless of the channel. Conversational AI solutions proved their worth to healthcare organizations in COVID-related responses, but those use cases are just the tip of the iceberg.  As we advance beyond COVID-19, we’re starting to see health organizations scale their conversational AI solutions and apply them to help their patients find care, schedule doctor’s visits, triage symptoms and more. 

Israel Krush, is the co-founder and CEO of Hyro, the world’s first Adaptive Communications Platform. Featuring plug & play conversational AI and natural language automation, Hyro enables enterprises to streamline their processes and messaging across their most valuable platforms, services and channels—including contact centers, chat solutions, SMS and more. Headquartered in New York, Hyro delights clients like Mercy Health, Novant Health, Carroll, and Contra Costa County with conversational technologies that are quick to deploy, easy to maintain and simple to scale—conserving vital resources while generating better conversations, more 

conversions, and revenue-driving insights.

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