Will a Chatbot a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

I just received great news from Amazon Web Services (AWS). After being on a waiting list for a while, I have official access to Amazon’s Lex Preview Program. In case you are new to cognitive technologies, Lex allows the embedding of speech recognition and natural language capabilities into applications, also known as “chatbots.” By recognizing what the user is saying (speech to text capability) and the intent of text (natural language capabilities), chatbots can provide highly engaging user experiences and lifelike conversational interactions.

We must agree that, even for humans, understanding spoken language and free text conversation in plain English (or any other language for that matter) is not as straightforward as it might seem at first glance. So, how is Lex able to do all that? Well, Lex makes the power of Amazon’s Alexa within reach: a sophisticated artificial intelligence platform with neural networks that perform “thinking” functions based on the way the brain works. Rather than traditional programming, which is linear in nature and must account for every possible route and outcome, neural nets use something called deep learning when converting speech to text. Literally, Lex “learns” constantly and gets smarter as time goes on.

Now, the most exciting aspect is the unlimited possibilities of building chatbots into new and existing applications. In particular, when I think about healthcare applications and population health, I believe the opportunities are plenty. As I get familiar with Lex (I already built my first text chatbot), I am already connecting the dots among technology, population health, and engaging lifelike user experiences.

Let’s take just one scenario where using chatbots could be an opportunity worth exploring. I recently read a study about medication adherence being a problem among Hispanics in the U.S. Medication adherence, or taking medications correctly, is generally defined as the extent to which patients take medication as prescribed by their doctors. This involves factors such as getting prescriptions filled, remembering to take medication on time, and understanding the directions. For nearly all medical conditions, Hispanics have lower medication adherence than non-Hispanic Whites. The same study indicates that Hispanics are more likely to increase their medication adherence if they understand the medications better, get the information directly from the doctor, and receive reminders via online, emails, and texts. That sounds like a good candidate for an engaging a smart chatbot!

Nearly 78 percent of Hispanics in the U.S report using the Internet and 76 percent of Hispanic Internet users report accessing the Internet through a mobile device. Hispanics are connected, mobile, and technology savvy. I believe that speech recognition, natural language, and translation are key ingredients to creating new and exciting applications that would engage patients into more personalized and lifelike experiences. Perhaps some of those apps could increase medical adherence among Hispanics.

The What and Why: It is good business to be healthy and companies like Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are leading the pack by making new exciting cognitive technologies available, like speech recognition and natural language, with the very appealing prospect of enhancing the quality of healthcare.