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Technology Advisor - The virtual health assistant

June 20, 2017
From the June 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Bipin Thomas

In my previous column, I introduced the emerging relevance of artificial intelligence (AI) in the health care industry.

This article is the continuation of the AI series in which I’m outlining specific applications of AI in health care. While there are a number of applications within health care where AI can deliver incredible value, health care executives must evaluate and see if they can adopt some or all of them in order to begin their journey in the AI space. The following is one of the four areas in which artificial intelligence in health care is gaining steam.

With most of today's U.S. adolescents, adults and seniors owning a smartphone, they are likely to have access to an intelligent personal assistant on their device. The likes of Cortana and Siri are backed by powerful systems with robust AI capabilities. These systems have the potential to provide tremendous value when combined with health care apps.

Virtual health assistants are going to see increasing use in the health care arena, where they can do everything from answering billing questions to encouraging patients to remain adherent to treatment and wellness regimens. They can save companies money while empowering patients to achieve better outcomes. Infinitely scalable, they can help millions of people navigate all kinds of information and deliver the high-touch, proactive engagement that call centers can’t afford to offer.

The case for virtual health assistants
Patients often make small mistakes that affect their health in big ways. Those simple mistakes include everything from forgetting to take their medicine to delaying or avoiding treatment to failing to schedule important health tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. There are already several technology-driven solutions, such as phone applications, medication text reminder systems, smart medication bottles and shipments of medication and goods that are automatically sent when an old prescription is due to run out. Those help, but they don’t go far enough.

The application of AI in the form of a personal assistant can have an incredible impact on monitoring and assisting patients with some of their needs when clinical personnel are not available. Virtual health assistants won’t replace humans. In fact, they work in conjunction with them. They are an engagement technology that is infused with the knowledge of a specific domain, therapy or wellness regimen as deciphered by each client. They are infinitely scalable, therefore saving money by addressing issues once reserved for call centers and health care professionals. When they can’t answer a question, they are programmed to direct you to the person or place that can.

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