Patients will soon be more likely to speak to an AI chatbot than a doctor or nurse as their first interaction with healthcare providers, according to Juniper Research.
The number of patients turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for their healthcare is set to explode over the next five years, saving hospitals billions of dollars in the process.
New findings from Juniper Research forecast that AI-powered chatbots will soon become the first responders for citizens engagements with healthcare providers, as the number of chatbot interactions exceeds 2.8 billion annually by 2023. This is up from an estimated 21 million in 2018, an average annual growth of 167%.
The adoption of chatbots will ramp up in the future, due to citizens becoming more comfortable using chatbots to discuss their healthcare requirements; shortage of medical practitioners; more deployment of chatbots to manage customer experience; and increased sophistication of conversational AI platforms leading to a greater percentage of enquiries being completed entirely via chatbots.
This is set to free up staff time and save countries’ healthcare systems around $3.7bn (£2.9bn), alleviating the mounting pressure brought on by ageing populations.
“But if deployments are not backed up by investment in record-keeping, then financial and time savings will evaporate,” research author, Michael Larner, warned.
“Chatbots have the potential to transform the way in which patients engage with their healthcare systems, and go some way to take the pressure off overstretched staff.”
These can be used to diagnose ailments, but can also provide a vital resource for patients living with chronic disease, with the US most advanced in incorporating the technology in healthcare services.
The NHS is already hoping to launch mobile applications for ailment diagnosis, with the aim of cutting patient waiting times at Accident & Emergency and reducing staff costs.
Several other major health services are looking to do the same, which could be particularly beneficial for countries like Germany which expects it will need three million more nurses by 2060.
Juniper Research said the first priority for healthcare providers should be to ensure that the information collected from patients is transferred to their medical records and other applications.
“This means that providers of medical records and line of business applications will need to make their existing systems interoperable with chatbot providers,” it added.
Juniper also notes that digital voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri are opening up for third party development with the publishing of SDKs, which allow healthcare providers to create their own apps to run on top.
Juniper says that there are already several use cases for digital voice assistants to support healthcare providers and patients, such as Microsoft's Aurora Digital Assistant, which helps patients to manage specific ailments, inform them of treatment options and book appointments with doctors.