Humanize Healthcare with a Digital Front Door and Conversational AI

4 minute read

Even in the digital era, healthcare organizations must maintain their human touch.

The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation journeys in most industries. Healthcare, however, was forced to move even faster given the spike in online-only care, and implemented advanced digital strategies that, prior to the first lockdown in March 2020, were likely light-years away.

Now, after two years of phone-based doctors' visits, online prescription refills and virtual ER triaging, the healthcare industry’s appetite for digital healthcare experiences has never been stronger. In a recent article from McKinsey, they found that "more than 60 percent of consumers expect to be able to change or schedule a healthcare appointment, check medical records and test results, and renew a medication online.” In fact, increasingly more consumers, especially younger consumers, now choose healthcare providers based largely on their digital experience offerings.

To address this growing demand, healthcare providers are adopting what has been coined as the “digital front door” strategy. According to Deloitte, this strategy is not defined by a single solution or patient interaction. Instead, this strategy leverages several “digital features” to connect patients and care teams across their entire care journeys.

Virtual AI assistants are a common feature of the digital front door strategy. Healthcare providers can deploy virtual assistants to enable personalized interactions with patients at scale by guiding patients through self-service, helping them to resolve their queries and directing them to the correct resources. With the right AI solution, the benefits of a healthcare virtual assistant are tremendous – patients receive personalized service at AI-speed, healthcare workers are relieved from handling repetitive requests and, as McKinsey notes, better patient care leads to “better health outcomes overall.”

Herein lies the critical point — not all virtual assistants are made the same. While most virtual assistants can answer simple, FAQ-type questions, many cannot handle complex questions, such as what to recommend if a patient forgets to take their medication one day. Even fewer virtual assistants can handle inquiries with human levels of emotional intelligence and contextual awareness, which are both essential for delivering empathetic and positive patient experiences.

Whether dealing with a recent diagnosis, following a long-term treatment plan or scheduling a checkup, patient journeys can be complicated, emotional and extremely isolating. For this reason, even in the digital era of healthcare, organizations must be capable of addressing a wide range of human emotions and experiences. To tackle this challenge, healthcare organizations need an AI solution that delivers human-like patient experiences at AI-speed and scale. In short, they need Conversational AI.

Delivering Human-Like Personalization

If a patient were calling to ask a human healthcare employee to schedule a routine doctor’s visit, the request would likely elicit a different emotional response from the employee than if the patient were scheduling their first chemotherapy treatment. Humans respond differently – and expect different responses – based on the context of requests and questions asked. Healthcare organizations should expect the same level of emotional intelligence from their virtual assistant.

Unlike basic chatbots, Conversational AI agents understand people’s emotions and intents, and form their responses accordingly. For example, if a patient called to schedule their first chemotherapy appointment, a Conversational AI agent would complete their request in a timely manner, inquire about how the person is feeling about the upcoming appointment, and ask whether they have any questions regarding the treatment.

In contrast, for routine requests such as scheduling an annual checkup or refilling a prescription, patients often prefer the experience to take as little time as possible, while also being efficient. As Conversational AI agents have the human-like ability to discern between different intents, they would know that efficiency is key for successfully addressing routine requests, and would quickly and accurately complete these interactions end-to-end.

Humans also string together past experiences with people to holistically understand others' current emotional and physical states during a healthcare interaction. This informs the questions they ask, the answers they provide, their tone of voice and much more. In healthcare, this level of personalization and understanding is critical to providing a valuable and supportive patient experience. As Accenture notes, healthcare organizations must understand “how to meaningfully show up across different life events.”

To maintain this level of understanding in the era of the digital front door in healthcare, virtual assistants must be able to meet patients where they are in their health journeys. Whereas chatbots approach each interaction in the same way, Conversational AI-powered virtual assistants leverage the knowledge they have accumulated from every interaction with an individual to provide a highly personalized, human-like patient experience.

Keep Humans in the Loop with Conversational AI

Despite the growing appetite for digital engagements in healthcare, many patients still want to speak to humans for assistance at different times. Enabling seamless transfers is critical for delivering a positive patient experience, because as Everest Group Founder and CEO Peter Bendor-Samuel emphasized in our recent What’s Next hybrid seminar, transfers are often one of the worst parts of customer service. So, instead of being a roadblock, virtual assistants should effortlessly connect patients with human colleagues.

Conversational AI-powered virtual assistants like Amelia enable frictionless escalations and transfers to human employees by equipping those agents with all the information acquired up until that point, so patients never have to repeat themselves post-transfer. Amelia then remains in conversations as a whisper agent and provides her human colleagues with immediate suggestions to patients’ questions and requests, helping to create extraordinary experiences.

The digital front door can guide patients along their healthcare journeys, relieve overburdened healthcare workers, empower patients to take control of their health and more. However, healthcare providers must ensure that digital experiences are not implemented at the expense of human experiences. They can and must be linked. By leveraging the latest advancements in Conversational AI, healthcare organizations can integrate human emotions and understanding right into the frame of the digital front door.

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