Improving the Health Care Consumer Experience with Conversational AI

We examine this health care opportunity and the factors in the industry that are prompting the need for it.

Allison Francis

September 11, 2019

6 Min Read
Conversational AI

Among health care C-suite executives, 69% report that improving the health care consumer experience is their organization’s first or second top strategic priority in 2019, according to just-published research from Sage Growth Partners.

This means that common improvement initiatives, including staffing changes, technology and patient navigation have shot to the top of “must-have” lists.

A fragmented delivery system, rising cost pressures and increased consumer expectations are rapidly changing the health care industry.

Health care organizations — whether payer, provider, pharma or device manufacturers — need to engage with patients beyond brick and mortar walls in cost-effective ways that are seamless, multimodal and natural to the patient populations that they serve.


Orbita’s Nathan Treloar

“Clearly, the use of conversational AI, voice applications and chatbots in retail, hospitality and other industries is on the rise,” says Orbita Inc. president Nathan Treloar. “Some see this technology as a true game-changer in health care, where the industry must find new ways to reduce costs while improving outcomes. To achieve results in this regard, organizations must offer better opportunities for patient engagement. Voice will contribute greatly.”

Treloar says that there is increasing interest in conversational AI among executives with titles such as chief consumer officer, head of enterprise and consumer digital experience, senior vice president of digital and omnichannel strategy and marketing, and vice president of customer innovation. These individuals are responsible for digital health solutions to improve satisfaction, engagement and outcomes whether globally through improved call center operations or for specific populations such as those involved in disease-specific health and wellness programs.

An important goal is to empower members with new self-service options that eliminate the challenges of web browsing or long wait times. Specific applications can include virtual assistants designed to help find a provider or location, answer health and wellness questions, or assist with open enrollment, or more clinically focused solutions such as those that guide members through symptom checking or triage or help a patient navigate a specific care protocol. Shared risk models among providers and payers will help drive new approaches with virtual care delivery — and voice will play an integral role.

Much of early market sizzle in the world of voice centered on devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Among large organizations, entities like Boston Children’s Hospital, Mayo Clinic and Cigna are blazing new trails. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are also making headway as are smaller entities in home health and long-term care sectors. Many of the vendors who sell digital solutions to these organizations are also active in this space, including digital strategy consultants, system integrators, digital agencies and telemedicine solution providers.

“Beyond the popular view of ‘voice’ that is closely aligned with smart speakers, we’re seeing more and more interest in the role of voice for web and mobile chatbots as well as voice engagement with kiosks or even medical devices themselves,” Treloar states. “Research is showing that many people, including the elderly, like to engage with voice (rather than typing or swiping), and millennials will come to expect it.”

Orbita, provider of health care’s conversational AI platform, recently…

…unveiled a new solution accelerator that enables health care organizations to quickly and easily deploy consumer-facing voice and chat applications that can assist with finding services and providers and schedule appointments.

The company’s new Consumer Services Accelerator allows health care organizations to quickly deploy voice and chatbot conversational experiences to websites and mobile applications to deal with common service requests like “Where can I find a physician close to home?”, “Can you recommend a female dermatologist near me who takes my insurance?” and “Is there a pharmacy at your clinic?”.

So, what factors have prompted the health care industry’s need for contextual voice solutions?


Cognizant’s Sashi Padarthy

“Contextual voice solutions is a new way for engagement, and many of the leading health care organizations are thinking about how to strategically implement these technologies to enhance consumer engagement,” says Sashi Padarthy, who leads AI and ML health care solutions at Cognizant, an Orbita partner. “There are multiple factors — both macro and micro — that are driving this trend.”

According to Padarthy, a couple of key factors are:

  • Consumer engagement. Millennials make up nearly a third of the health care consumers nowadays and they are choosing where, how, and with whom they seek help based on effective digital engagement. And health care organizations are taking note.

  • Clinical Call Centers. These are becoming strategic enablers to help patients manage their chronic conditions. Three major conditions contribute to nearly $1 trillion of annual spend. Many organizations have found great success in addressing these patients’ needs and made them compliant to their therapy through effective use of clinical call centers. Now these organizations are looking to cut cost and improve access and engagement through effective use of these technologies

Cognizant itself is leveraging this technology to support its customers in a number of ways.

“We have been working on using these technologies to develop a conversational engagement platform that allows us to deploy highly personalized, branded and HIPAA-compliant solutions to health care organizations,” says Padarthy. “We are currently working with leading health systems and health plans to deploy this technology in a variety of use cases, from member engagement and care coordination to patient services (medical transportation, appointment scheduling, clinical workflows, etc.).

The platform supports multiple channels, including mobile, web, Google and Alexa along with IVR. It also makes it easy and cost effective for health care organizations because it comes with connectors to back-office systems such as Facets/QNEXT, care management systems, EMR and Salesforce.

So what are the benefits for leading IT service providers like Cognizant to leverage Voice AI?

These technologies show a lot of promise in terms of improving the quadruple aim — lower costs, improved outcomes, improved patient and clinician experience and satisfaction — but we are very much in the early innings,” says Padarthy. “Understanding of medical language by these systems is still in the early stages, but we are making great strides. The key benefit of this technology is the ability to orchestrate and provide contextual answers to patients.”

Consider for example a 50-year-old patient…

…who went to a doctor for a wellness visit, and the doctor ordered a colonoscopy. If that patient wants to know 1) what a colonoscopy is, 2) if he is covered, 3) how much he has to pay out of his pocket, 4) where should he get it done, 5) how should he prepare for the visit and finally, and 6) schedule that visit, he will have to go to at least six or more systems.

“Through conversational interfaces, we can deliver all of that information easily from a single screen,” concludes Padarthy.

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About the Author(s)

Allison Francis

Allison Francis is a writer, public relations and marketing communications professional with experience working with clients in industries such as business technology, telecommunications, health care, education, the trade show and meetings industry, travel/tourism, hospitality, consumer packaged goods and food/beverage. She specializes in working with B2B technology companies involved in hyperconverged infrastructure, managed IT services, business process outsourcing, cloud management and customer experience technologies. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Drake University. An Iowa native, she resides in Denver, Colorado.

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