To be fair, many companies launching chatbots have done so in an experimental spirit, but that hasn’t stopped some observers from asking questions about whether the chatbot hype will ever materialize into something meaningful.

Some chatbots, however, are showing promise and a new Microsoft chatbot hints that the technology might indeed have a meaningful future in healthcare.

A Marketer’s Guide to Chatbots

As detailed by Bloomberg, the company’s Clinical Trials Bot started as a hackathon project in the software giant’s lab in Israel and is now part of the company’s larger healthcare bot initiative. Its purpose: connect patients to clinical trials they’re suited to participate in.

Without the help of technology, that can be a difficult task. According to Hadas Bitran, the group manager for Microsoft Healthcare Israel, there are some 50,000 clinical trials taking place globally, and the criteria for each can be lengthy.

Given the numbers of trials and complexity of their criteria, both patients and their doctors often struggle to find appropriate trials. In some cases, access to the right trial can potentially mean the difference between life and death for patients.

The stakes are also high for pharma companies. Clinical trials account for 40% of their research budgets, and of trial budgets, 40% is allocated to patient recruitment. Yet up to half of proposed trials fail to recruit any or a single participant, and of those that do get off the ground, 85% fail to retain enough participants.

Could Microsoft’s Clinical Trials Bot help fix that? It just might.

Before patients and doctors ever interact with the bot, the technology behind it, using AI-based machine reading, analyzes selection criteria for clinical trials and determines which questions should be asked to establish a possible patient-trial match.

Then, when a patient begins interacting with the chatbot with a query such as “trials for a 52-year old California female with breast cancer”, the chatbot can begin asking more detailed questions associated with trials that might be suitable for the patient.

Microsoft says it intends to commercialize Clinical Trials Bot by offering it to pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare providers as opposed to building its own consumer-facing offering.

The key to chatbot success?

If successful, Clinical Trials Bot won’t be successful simply because it was a chatbot. Instead, it will be successful because useful technology, delivered through a chatbot, solved a significant problem for its users.

This distinction will likely separate most chatbot success stories from the failures.

Far too many chatbots aim to take existing interactions, often transactional in nature, such as making a purchase of some kind, and chatbot-izing them. The problem with this approach is that many of those interactions are already incredibly efficient and chatbots don’t deliver enough incremental value to the interaction to justify their existence.

As a result, consumers don’t see the point of the chatbot and usage is low.

With this in mind, companies interested in the opportunities chatbots create would be wise to look at examples of chatbots that don’t just replicate existing interactions but rather take advantage of the medium’s unique characteristics.

This is especially important in industries like healthcare, for which there are many kinds of challenges that could potentially be addressed through solutions that interact with patients through chatbot experiences.

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