Recently, Facebook announced that its new Messenger Platform will support chatbots for custom communication powered by artificial intelligence (AI). A chatbot, or bot, can provide all kinds of information and services, from weather and traffic updates to hotel reservations and pizza delivery. Chatbots respond to text messages and sometimes voice commands to execute tasks in a way that feels like a real conversation. Think of it as a software program that communicates with people intelligently, much in the same way we use messaging apps to communicate with friends, family and coworkers.
The technology has been evolving for decades. What’s new is the integration of chatbots into messaging apps. WeChat, China’s most popular chat app and one of the pioneers of chatbots, has more than 650 million active users. In the United States, we’re starting to see millions of online users moving away from search to messaging apps for the information they need. Clearly, people appreciate having an immediate way to communicate through an interface that’s more conversational than a conventional search engine.
The AI component of a chatbot makes messaging much more powerful, in the same way AI makes our household devices “smarter” over time. The first few times I interacted with Amazon Echo it was somewhat awkward, but interactions have become more personalized and natural over time, as Echo learns my language patterns and preferences. (Of course, as Microsoft learned, a chatbot can learn some things we’d rather not have it repeat.)
Already, dozens of bots are available on Facebook Messenger for news, shopping and entertainment. It’s only a matter of time before a similar concept will intersect the healthcare market. In fact, one of the first Messenger bots is HealthTap, which lets users type a question into Messenger any time and receive a free response from a doctor.
Just imagine the possibilities for the future:
- Patients will make doctor appointments using a chatbot that helps find an available time and relays the pertinent information.
- Physicians will manage on-call scheduling entirely via messaging.
- Eventually, we could even have a Voalte bot that relays patient information to a doctor or nurse from the electronic medical record.
It will take some time, but healthcare will be impacted by new messaging bot technology in much the same way healthcare communication is now being transformed by secure text messaging.
Trey Lauderdale is Founder and President of Voalte.