In fact, in the future, chatbots could be a common way for individuals to interact with healthcare providers.
For example, digital health startup HealthTap created a bot that allows Facebook Messenger users to seek out answers to their health questions.
HealthTap’s bot searches for similar questions and can provide past answers that might be useful before it offers to send the user’s question to its network of 100,000 doctors.
And now Baidu, China’s largest search engine, is getting into the act with Melody, a chatbot that is integrated into the company’s iOS and Android Baidu Doctor apps.
Melody, which is available to Chinese patients and doctors, uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to gather information from patients related to the medical questions they ask.
The bot does not dispense medical advice.
Instead, it presents the information collected from the patient to doctors, who can then respond after the information has been reviewed and validated.
“It’s not our role to diagnose – it’s the doctors’ role to diagnose. We try to assist the doctors,” Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief scientist, told VentureBeat.
Melody was trained on health data from a number of sources, including medical textbooks and health websites, which assists the bot in asking patients the right questions and collecting the right information that doctors can use to make a diagnosis.
Over time, Melody will get even better as its artifical intelligence learns from its own interactions.
While Melody doesn’t dispense advice, Ng sees the technology as being critical to healthcare going forward.
There is a widspread shortage of doctors around the globe, and this problem is only expected to grow in the coming decades.
As Ng sees it, “I don’t know how else to solve this problem other than to use AI.”
While Melody is currently only in use in China, Baidu is in talks with organizations in the US and Europe and Ng says the technology is “resonating well with physicians around the world.”
That suggests that if chatbots truly go mainstream and Melody proves successful at helping doctors and patients interact more efficiently, chatbots could become a fixture in the healthcare industry in the not too distant future.