The Coronavirus outbreak has occurred in an ultra-modern era, packed with technology to the hilt. Even then, the dissemination of accurate information about the disease remains a challenge. Traditional broadcast media has shrinking audiences. While Social Media could be considered the most widespread medium of communication, even genuine information on this medium is prone to be misinterpreted as fake.
This is a challenge perfectly suited to Conversational AI or also known as Chatbots. It is a quickly evolving technology that allows information access through text or voice-based interactions. In the current scenario, Chatbots are proving their worth in the Coronavirus crisis.
How chatbots are helping fight COVID-19
Chatbots have become the technology of choice for providing health-related information in the current Coronavirus crisis. Rapid leaps in Natural Language Processing (NLP) have enabled the widespread launch and use of Voice-based AI platforms like as Alexa and Siri. The intuitive 24×7 interface of chatbots makes them very strong candidates for the job. Another good thing about Chatbots are that like websites, they could be engineered to be highly device-agnostic (they could also be programmed on function on basic feature phones!). Widespread adoption of chatbots for COVID-19 information could reduce the burden on hospital call centres and potentially lower the volume of cases in urgent care and emergency care.
Chatbots can also be programmed to provide specific responses to a question in an interactive manner. The responses could be customized based on the individual’s needs, local guidelines and regulations.
Several leading organizations have already deployed Chatbots to disseminate critical information about COVID-19. Some of them being Apollo Hospitals and WHO; their chatbots provide curated information on the spread of the pandemic and its symptoms. A few companies and organizations have understood the social context and are making chatbots especially for speaking with people made lonely by social distancing and to help people with symptoms understand if they should seek testing or other help from a medical professional. Several governments are expected to follow suit to provide validated information to their citizens.
Like all other technologies, Chatbots have disadvantages too!
The main issue currently is the platform’s inability to cope with high volume. When the number of requests exceeds the expected volumes, chatbots could end up in delaying responses or providing no response at all. There is nothing worse than not receiving a response at a time of crisis.
Some Chatbots provide inconsistent responses; a few of them tell you to see a doctor urgently while the rest suggest taking rest at home. This inconsistency primarily stems from the way the chatbot’s decision tree is engineered. Low-quality engineering and frequently not updating the repository that chatbots retrieve information from could deliver such unreliable results.
There are other broader ethical concerns to consider. Some chatbots are designed to pretend to be human and replace practitioners. Then there is the issue of data privacy, and the findings from one population being used for another completely different set of people.
We expect industry bodies and governments to soon step in to create some broad frameworks that would be adhered by all Chatbot developers. These frameworks would need to factor for validation, patient expectation, privacy, and security.
Post COVID-19, we expect Chatbots to play an instrumental role in the Healthcare industry. They could help patients find an available doctor, schedule appointments, facilitate symptom checking, prepare for procedures and follow post-discharge instructions. They could also be programmed to be virtual assistants to physicians. But a chatbot is only as good as it’s developers. Organizations should take care to select a development partner who delivers high-quality adaptive engineering solutions and has a ton of relevant expertise in the healthcare domain.
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