Technology has the capacity to cause fundamental shifts in entire industries. Technological applications can often dramatically increase efficiency, transform effectiveness, and make entire processes obsolete.
In recent years, the healthcare industry has experienced massive and widespread difficulties. Increasing life expectancies, higher levels of competition, and the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic are just some of the large-scale shifts that have profoundly affected healthcare and how it operates.
These trends have expedited technological advancement and application within the industry. And, unfortunately, this is only projected to continue in coming years.
The healthcare industry is stretched thin
The healthcare industry has been overwhelmed by heightened need and restricted resources during the realities of COVID-19. But that trend will likely endure as the present reality shifts into a post-pandemic world.
Increasing demand will cause strain on overworked medical professionals. In turn, this will increase the need for service provision efficiency. And in the meantime, effective patient engagement has never been more important and must be prioritised.
So how does the healthcare system manage these seemingly competing forces? One answer can be found in live chat and telehealth services.
How live chat can affect the healthcare landscape
Healthcare delivery is increasingly augmented by technologies that allow for digital communication and service provision. These technologies create new opportunities for efficiency. With the aid of software, new types of healthcare provision are now possible that would have been difficult or impossible previously.
Advantages of telehealth offerings include being able to treat patients irrespective of geographical distance. For instance, telehealth can make doctors with specialities or niche expertise available to more people — even those that wouldn’t be able to see them in person.
Another advantage includes making healthcare more available for patients who have difficulties travelling or leaving their homes. For instance, telehealth offerings like live chat mitigate the time required for transit and movement for the patient. (And often for the health professional as well.)
This then makes it possible for doctors and medical service providers to serve more patients in a day. They save both time and resources in moving people back and forth from their residences to a medical facility. Which, in turn, reduces the overall strain on the healthcare organisation.
Telehealth and live chat functionalities can take a number of different forms. For instance, telehealth can refer to health appointments conducted digitally over a video streaming platform like Zoom. Or, it can refer to real-time digital messaging. (Think typing, not talking.)
Live chat services allow some additional benefits over video-based telehealth services. A healthcare provider, for example, could facilitate multiple live chat interactions at once. In turn, they increase their time efficiency.
Plus, live chat interactions create an opportunity for patients who feel more comfortable messaging than speaking face to face. This can aid patients who require support about sensitive or difficult-to-discuss issues. Similarly, the privacy of a typed chat is a boon for those who suffer from social anxiety and might not otherwise attend an appointment with a healthcare provider.
See also: The growing role of healthcare live chat
On top of proven telehealth services like live chat availability, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly entering healthcare. From experimental to standardised, we will see AI used in a variety of capacities much more frequently in the coming years.
Applied to live chat, AI can transform a manually operated messaging platform to a tool that can interact with patients autonomously.
Natural language processing (NLP) refers to chatbots that are infused with AI technology. This allows them to conduct chat conversations with little or no human intervention. For a strained healthcare industry, this is an enormous resource relief.
For example, NLP chatbots incorporated into healthcare services could gather preliminary information about a patient’s needs. They could perform basic health troubleshooting. They could digitally facilitate administrative activities with patients.
In short, as AI chatbots become more sophisticated, they will be able to take on larger percentages of the busywork necessary in healthcare. And, in the process, they free up human medical professionals to spend more of their time interfacing with patients, treating problems, and providing diagnoses.
Considerations for applying live chat to healthcare
As with any technological advance, it’s important to recognise the ways that technology might create different limitations or problems than the ones it was meant to solve. Live chat is different from in-person healthcare provision. Because of this, it’s important for healthcare professionals to remain aware of its benefits and weaknesses so that it can be applied effectively.
One important area of consideration is patient confidentiality.
So, conducting patient-doctor interactions over internet platforms introduces new security complications and implications that need to be handled appropriately. These can include how live chat conversations are stored or shared, what types of sensitive patient data can be included or sent via chats, questions of verifying identity, and more.
Another important truth is that live chat services are not ideal for every type of health need. The lack of a patient’s physical presence means that most diagnostic tests can’t be performed. As such, doctors are limited to only some kinds of information. They aren’t able to look closely at, feel, or manipulate a patient physically to aid their diagnosis, for instance.
An additional limitation includes internet connection and variability. When either the healthcare professional or the patient has poor internet connection, conversations can be easily interrupted, delayed, or dropped. True, the average quality of internet connection for most people around the world is rising. Yet this connectivity issue will still plague the plausibility and effectiveness of live chat healthcare provision — at least in some places and settings — for the foreseeable future.
Though some inherent limitations exist, live chat and other forms of digital healthcare provision are changing the health industry. Chat, whether boosted by AI or not, alleviates strain in ways that can fundamentally aid medical professionals. Via telehealth services, we can lessen the significant forces that are currently overburdening the healthcare system.
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within a wide range of industries including information technology, healthcare, and AI. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs in the technology and healthcare space.