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It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement when new communication technology innovations in healthcare are revealed. We optimistically envision a better healthcare future and buy into the promises of a particular new entrant. But as an industry, we need to do a better job of remembering where we are today, the true purpose of communication technology innovation in our space and ultimately move the hype away from the technology itself and toward how it will enhance human-to-human relationships.
Let’s take Alexa’s move into healthcare as an example. The growth of Alexa’s capabilities to include the healthcare industry is positive. However, it just feels like so many people are letting their imaginations run wild and dreaming that care via Alexa will be simple and complete, as if all you have to do is ask Alexa one question and boom, you’ll get all the answers you need and get healthier immediately. Alexa is still just one, maturing mode of communication. The healthcare industry has some of the lowest Net Promoter Scores due to its complexity, lack of trust and poor end-to-end user experience. Is Alexa, a virtual assistant, really going to give consumers the trust and empathy they need to change the way they behave with their care teams and make smarter decisions about their health?
In my experience working outside of healthcare, in fintech and entertainment, I believe chatbot-led communication can be sufficient when human interactions are meant to be transactional. Healthcare is arguably the most difficult maze to navigate on a good day. When a person is under duress, such as experiencing flu-like symptoms that are worsening, trying to coordinate hip replacement surgery, or preparing to have their first child, a bot simply cannot be the first and primary interaction a person has throughout their care journey. Unlike other industries, where artificial intelligence has successfully replaced many human interactions, healthcare must remain human first, technology second. Chatbots can assist care teams, but they cannot replace them.
If implemented into healthcare properly, chat and bots have tremendous potential. After all, 5 billion people use chat to communicate on a daily active basis, according to a worldwide chat usage study by Statistic Brain. More than 40 percent of consumers prefer live chat support more than any other channels, according to a study by Kayako. Text-based conversations enable endless opportunities to improve operational efficiency and ensure clinical quality. So, what does this look like? Chat (as well as video and voice interactions) must mirror how people use communication tools with family and friends in their daily interactions. They should improve communication, collaboration, teamwork and information sharing to ultimately enhance the way people engage with their healthcare.
The key to a truly effective and efficient care journey is having human-to-human interaction at the core and then add whatever technology is necessary. For example, if a patient prefers chat as a communication method, then use it to instantly connect them to their human care team.
We’ve passed the tipping point with Alexa. She is going to further infuse into our healthcare world, which again is great. But when the next wave of Alexa headlines come…let’s all just remember that human interactions are still the real key to getting the care you need.