In The Know: Analyst answers — Voice-controlled assistants and chatbots in healthcare

The use of voice-controlled assistants are familiar to many of us in our daily lives, but what about their use in healthcare? Designed for ease of use, voice-controlled assistants and chatbot technologies are making their way into the pharma industry through promises of increased patient empowerment and greater cost efficiencies. With interest on the rise regarding their future in the healthcare space, we spoke to subject expert and analyst Dr. Nicola Davies on the benefits these conversational interface technologies have to offer.


FirstWord: What makes the topic of voice-controlled assistants and chatbots an important area for pharmaceutical companies right now?

Nicola Davies: We’re aware that voice-activated products are being used in people's homes, and now, this technology is also being used by physicians and healthcare professionals. Yet,  few of these tools are being used by pharma directly. Right now, pharma companies are beginning to explore this area, with the understanding that it is what consumers are expecting. Since we all use the Internet and smart devices, it is only fitting to go in this direction as pharma are becoming much more customer-centric.


FW: What experts have you spoken with on the subject?

ND: Collectively, the four experts have extensive experience in working with medical chatbots:

  • Sara Cecchini is a marketing and sales professional who is currently the Go-to-Market Manager and Chatbot Developer for ZEISS in San Diego, where she designed and developed internal and business-to-consumer chatbots for ZEISS North America.

  • Omar Fogliadini is a Managing Partner at LIFEdata, a Swiss-based company focused on creating end-to-end AI solutions to enable enterprises to deliver a new level of customer experience by connecting their employees and their customers with relevant data in real time via the Internet of Things.

  • Nick Genatone is an Enterprise Technology leader, focused on providing life science enterprises around the world with conversational AI solutions. He specialises in business development and software sales, natural language processing, chatbots, intelligent virtual assistants, healthcare technology and cognitive technologies.

  • Saujanya Sunkarwar is a software engineer at Syntel in India, where she currently works as a chatbot developer. Sunkarwar has also worked as an associate consultant, developing chatbots for clients in the abovementioned domains using channels such as Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, Skype and web app bots.


FW: Which key issue generated the most interest during conversations with experts?

ND: The main talking point among the experts was around the fear. Although we understand their benefits, there is still a fear that these technologies will remove our face-to-face interactions and will become impersonal. However, the reality is that they offer a more customer-centric framework that can actually help personalise the experience of the customer. Since medical care is such a personal experience, the goal is to keep the interactions feeling human and natural.  


FW: What were some of the most insightful interview quotes?

ND: (1) “Technology is giving brands a living lab. Connecting consumers via existing devices provides you with a wealth of real-life data to customise marketing, sales, and research and development without waiting for the next season." [Fogliadini]

(2) “Having the ability to answer your customer’s questions 24/7 does a lot to improve customer satisfaction. It also improves staff productivity because the vast majority of customer service questions can be answered by the chatbot, leaving the more difficult questions to be answered by staff in a timely manner.” [Cecchini]

(3) “The biggest impact will be on clinical trials and on prescription adherence and information. Clinical trials are incredibly expensive. Hopefully this technology will increase developmental speed and decrease costs.” [Genatone]


FW: What were the most notable takeaways from researching the topic of voice-controlled assistants and chatbots in healthcare?

ND: The key is understanding the three main benefits of voice-controlled assistants and chatbots in healthcare. The first is that these technologies naturally fit a patient-centric framework. They encourage patient empowerment by making patients more proactive in their self-care, as well as independent as they can turn to these tools to ask questions and get information. The second benefit is how they could really improve pharma's relationship with healthcare professionals by reducing their burden. Lastly, the third benefit is around their involvement in clinical trials and increased cost efficiency. Voice assistants and chatbots are allowing for a greater reach of people via virtual clinical trials, certainly changing the way they’ve been conducted in the past.


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