Can chatbots engage distracted consumers in healthcare?

by Joe Bayley

Everyone knows that trying to squeeze a doctor’s visit into a lunch break can be a nightmare. Even if you’ve filled out your health and insurance information through a booking website, you know that – inexplicably – you’ll have to do it again in-person at the doctor’s office. Tack on the checkout and payment process, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be missing a post-lunch meeting. But there may be some good news around the corner.

Leading healthcare companies are making strides towards better patient engagement space by leveraging innovation from the consumer tech space, such as AI, wearables, and most recently chatbots. According to Forbes, chatbots are already improving consumer experiences across a number of industries, with 1.6 billion people having interfaced with one in 2016. However, the responses are not always positive so we set out to learn more.

We used Alpha to gain objective data directly from thousands of chatbot users about their actual wants and needs. Then we tested potential solutions by running experiments to find out how they would react to it and see where there are opportunities to effectively engage patients.

To start with though, we had to get the lay of the land and see what kinds of chat bots users had interacted with recently.

The results came back without any surprises, but it was helpful to get a baseline. Next we looked into opportunities specifically in healthcare.

Given the massive opportunity in healthcare to better engage patients, there is no shortage of people trying to build better tools. However, while the number of consumers seeking health information online has skyrocketed in the past few years, patient engagement in apps unrelated to fitness or dieting remains abysmally low.

Again by using Alpha’s on-demand platform, the team explored potential solutions to this problem. We began taking a quick concept description and getting it turned into a simple mockup of “Med Chatbot”. The flow illustrates a user conversing with an automated service to check into a doctor’s appointment.

We then tested the Med Chatbot with 150+ people who have used chatbots recently, capturing their reactions what looks like a real product. Even with just a nascent idea and limited use case, respondent reactions were very positive.

“Between myself and my two children who have medical issues we are constantly in and out of drs offices. This would simplify things a lot”

– Jill, 42 in White Plains NY

“I would love to be able to do everything on my phone. I’m diabetic so I have to get a check up every 3 months and go to a specialist twice a year. This would save me a lot of time.”

– Jose, 29 in Des Moines IA

In addition to getting rapid feedback, Alpha enables clients to dig in deeper by having prospective users explain how they’d use the product in the wild, and even additional features they’d like to see. In general, we’ve found that this emotional investment is indicative of a market opportunity. After the first version of Med Chatbot, we iterated on the simple concept and developed a more robust prototype with the features that were informed by user insights.

Rebranded as “Virtual Healthcare Assistant”, we used Alpha again to get additional features prototyped. The new iteration not only included the ability to book and confirm appointments, but also features for reporting and diagnosing symptoms, and filling prescriptions. You can click through the interactive prototype here.

Turns out, users loved the concept of feeling like they had around-the-clock access to a doctor, even for mild symptoms. In particular, check out what Robert said:

Turns out, chatbots are a potential breakthrough for patient engagement. Alpha provided a piece of that puzzle, but it’ll be up to healthcare innovators to fill in the rest.

If you’re looking into similar opportunities, Alpha’s Consumer Insights Platform and can accelerate speed-to-insight and help you make smarter decisions. Management teams that are responsive to consumer trends are significantly more likely to build successful products that meet the needs of consumers.

Joe Bayley

Joe partners with complex product organizations at UnitedHealth, Aetna, and Liberty Mutual to provide them meaningful insights and actionable data, throughout the product development cycle.