Healthcare systems across the globe, and front-line healthcare workers in particular, are battling unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While patient and worker safety is a top priority, managing the influx of patients has become a growing concern. Technology has helped reduce this burden by automating some of the healthcare workers’ daily tasks, with help coming from an unassuming source: chatbots. Chatbots in healthcare are largely considered a way to address basic patient queries, but with AI built in, they are also able to handle complex tasks like providing personalized health and therapy information, recommend treatments based on symptoms, and at times even provide companionship to improve mental health.
AI-powered chatbots enable 24/7 healthcare access for anyone, regardless of socio-economic background, digital divide or digital literacy. Unlike real humans, chatbots do not get frustrated and can answer repeated questions calmly and consistently, which improves patient satisfaction. Chatbots also provide a judgment-free environment for patients to receive help in private.
Challenges for Chatbots in Healthcare
AI-based systems that are highly conversational and context-aware, like chatbots, pose many challenges. For instance, translating medical information into publicly consumable advice requires specific expertise. People who are aren’t as familiar with the technology may treat the chatbot’s response as the advice of a human medical professional, and thus not seek further medical help if warranted.
In addition, the industry continues to grapple with ethical concerns about chatbots “pretending” to be human, mental health chatbots “attempting” to fully replace therapists, cyberattacks skewing chatbots’ models and responses, and even obsolete expert recommendations making their way into the chatbot’s response library due to untimely updates in medical treatment plans. These risks posed by AI-powered chatbots are hampering their adoption, and a governance framework to mitigate and manage these risks is the need of the hour.
Effective Governance is Key to Address Chatbot Challenges
Effective governance is essential to guide the players in the industry for responsible and meaningful adoption of chatbots. Guidelines for technology providers to build robust data security and to enable model governance that can reduce any bias or human error is critical. Healthcare providers need to enable governance around training the chatbots with well-represented datasets, controlled roll-out to user communities, etc.
Governance mechanisms also need to address uncertainty about the miscommunications, legitimacy, patient expectations and accuracy of the health information provided, while keeping transparency and privacy in mind.
Frameworks for the Future of Chatbots
As the world rebuilds from this pandemic, digital innovations will transform healthcare providers and the way patients receive care. Chatbots can certainly play a large role in this future, as this technology doesn’t compel anyone to choose between cost and efficacy. It is vital for governments, technology firms and healthcare providers to model AI governance frameworks that address the concerns and drive wide-scale adoption.
Wipro, as part of the Chatbot Reset workshop at World Economic Forum, is assisting in the development of a governance framework that addresses ethical and regulatory issues while helping to implement these principles.