When it comes to getting fast customer service online, are chatbots really cut out to close the gap? With patients expecting near real-time assistance, around the clock, healthcare providers are often turning to artificial intelligence (AI) technology to enhance the patient experience. But, with business development experts forecasting that 80% of businesses will use chatbots by 2020,1 understanding how to use them effectively can be key. Here are the top pros and cons to consider before implementing chatbots on your company’s website.

A hand holding a smart phone with a cartoon of a robot and human talking to each other.

Pro: Lower customer service costs

Since chatbots can traditionally handle many common customer requests such as getting information to set an appointment, retrieving office contact information, or handling simple billing inquiries – they can eliminate the need to have a robust staff of customer service representatives. Instead, more complex questions or requests that involve medical interpretations can be assigned to a live agent, while all other requests can be handled by the chatbot. In fact, chatbots are estimated to save companies upwards of $8 billion per year by 2022.2

Con: Programming can be burdensome

The time and investment put into programming chatbots to respond accurately to a host of questions and statements can be rather challenging. For example, whether a patient types “how can I make an appointment”, or “I need to make an appointment”, or “where do I make an appointment”, or even “I need to see a doctor” the chatbot must recognize that these questions, though slightly different, are essentially asking for the same information. Though AI technology has evolved greatly over the past decade, you need to ensure that your chatbot is answering questions appropriately and able to address patient inquiries quickly.

Pro: Chatbots are a type of learning technology

With each patient interaction, your chatbot technology will be able to learn from these and improve its accuracy. A quick survey at the end of each chat session asking the user to rate the usefulness of the information provided is a quick and easy way to assess if your chatbots are actually helping or not. Analyzing this data on a regular basis can help you fine-tune how your chatbots respond and pinpoint small intricacies in language that can be programmed to better assist your chatbots in getting patients the right information.

Con: Off topic questions or comments can be tricky

Your chatbot looks for patterns in language to determine the appropriate way to respond. So, large deviations from the norm may leave your chatbot confused. Likewise, complex requests are better suited for a live representative. Offering a “speak to a live representative” link during each chatbot session can be an effective way to allow patients to get the help they need for more intricate matters. Additionally, providing prompting before initiating a chatbot session to determine what the patient needs assistance with can help you route those with more time-consuming questions or concerns to a live representative and others to the chatbot.

So, the verdict is out on the question, “are chatbots useful?” Though they have some clear drawbacks, especially for smaller health and wellness providers that may not be able to afford the upfront costs, they do have some tangible benefits in helping to streamline the patient care process. Most notably, hospitals are using chatbots to record patient data before visits, helping to reduce the wait time in the office. For example, when a patient sets an appointment online via a chatbot, important information can be quickly gathered and stored without a live representative ever having to type or manually enter anything into a patient management system. As AI technology evolves and chatbots become more sophisticated, their ability to handle more complex communication interactions is expected to exponentially increase. And, when it does, patients will be able to get the assistance they need online, around the clock, when they need it the most.


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