COVID-19: can chatbot ease medical providers' burden?

Research found that chatbots working for reputable organizations can ease the burden on medical providers and offer trusted guidance to those with symptoms.

Photo

COVID-19 has placed tremendous pressure on health care systems, not only for critical care but also from an anxious public looking for answers. Research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business found that chatbots - software applications that conduct online chats via text or text-to-speech- working for reputable organizations can ease the burden on medical providers and offer trusted guidance to those with symptoms.

Researchers conducted an online experiment with 371 participants who viewed a COVID-19 screening session between a hotline agent -- chatbot or human -- and a user with mild or severe symptoms.

They studied whether chatbots were seen as being persuasive, providing satisfying information that likely would be followed. Their results showed a slight negative bias against chatbots' ability, perhaps due to recent press reports. When the perceived ability is the same, however, participants reported that they viewed chatbots more positively than human agents, which is good news for health care organizations struggling to meet user demand for screening services. "The primary factor driving user response to screening hotlines - human or chatbot - is perceptions of the agent's ability," said Alan Dennis, the John T. Chambers Chair of Internet Systems at Kelley and corresponding author of the paper, "User reactions to COVID-19 screening chatbots from reputable providers." "When ability is the same, users view chatbots no differently or more positively than human agents."

Even before the pandemic, chatbots were identified as a technology that could speed up how people interact with researchers and find medical information online. "Chatbots are scalable, so they can meet an unexpected surge in demand when there is a shortage of qualified human agents," Dennis, Antino Kim, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at Kelley and their co-authors wrote, adding that chatbots "can provide round-the-clock service at a low operational cost.

"This positive response may be because users feel more comfortable disclosing information to a chatbot, especially socially undesirable information, because a chatbot makes no judgment," researchers wrote. "The CDC, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other health organizations caution that the COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviors against people of certain ethnic backgrounds, as well as those perceived to have been in contact with the virus. This is truly an unfortunate situation, and perhaps chatbots can assist those who are hesitant to seek help because of the stigma."

The primary factor driving perceptions of ability was the user's trust in the provider of the screening hotline. "Proactively informing users of the chatbot's ability is important," the authors wrote. "Users need to understand that chatbots use the same up-to-date knowledge base and follow the same set of screening protocols as human agents. Because trust in the provider strongly influences perceptions of ability, building on the organization's reputation may also prove useful."

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Chatbots help decrease opioid use after surgery

Chatbots help decrease opioid use after surgery

A study showed that patients receiving messages from a chatbot used fewer opioids after fracture surgery, and their overall pain level fell, too.

mhealth: Bluetooth to detect COVID-19 cases

mhealth: Bluetooth to detect COVID-19 cases

Researchers concluded that Bluetooth technology is ideal for detecting possible COVID-19 cases through smartphone contact tracing.

COVID-19: AI system monitores vital health

COVID-19: AI system monitores vital health

A key symptom of COVID-19 – oxygen saturation – is now being estimated remotely from a camera, thanks to research from University of South Australia (UniSA).

AI model detects Covid-19 infections through coughs

AI model detects Covid-19 infections through coughs

Researchers have found that people who are asymptomatic for Covid-19 may differ from healthy individuals in the way that they cough.

5 ways AI is used against COVID-19

5 ways AI is used against COVID-19

Find out more about how scientists and physician are using AI to make contributions in the fight against the coronavirus.

Motivation for using chatbots for mental health

Motivation for using chatbots for mental health

Researchers assessed what would motivate people to use chatbots for mental health services in the wake of a mass shooting.

AI tool can detect COVID-19 outbreaks

AI tool can detect COVID-19 outbreaks

A new machine learning–based online tool allows for early detection of COVID-19 outbreaks in different U.S. counties.

Covid-19: chatbots could be used to deliver psychotherapy

Covid-19: chatbots could be used to deliver psychotherapy

Researchers show chatbots could play a key role in helping people with issues around their health and wellbeing.

mhealth: App determines COVID-19 disease severity

mhealth: App determines COVID-19 disease severity

A new mobile app can help clinicians determine which patients with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are likely to have severe cases.

Popular articles