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2018: A Bot Odyssey

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Words by Louise Rogers

Long gone is the golden era of advertising, glamourised by TV show Mad Men, where copywriters and creatives deliberated how best to capture relationships between consumers and the brand. Fast-forward to 2018, and this dynamic has a whole new dimension to it. The symbiosis of digital and human calls for marketers to work with technology and create new platforms that start personal, two-way conversations between consumer and brand. However convenient digital interfaces may be, we crave a ‘warm-blooded’ interaction. So how can we bring the inanimate to life?

A similar question faced Alexandra Philp-Reeves in 2016 when, concerned by the diagnosing of Dr Google, she realised the need for a conversation-driven AI solution for teenagers; “I saw my friends trying to engage with the health industry and being let down”, says the founder of conversationHEALTH. “A Google search for anorexia after my best friend’s diagnosis found websites encouraging dangerous behaviours, which made me even more frustrated with the lack of valuable, reliable health information that was available to me in a credible, accessible manner.”

Health chat bots are encroaching into the emotional realm of humans, exhibiting feelings and empathy

Today, health chat bots are encroaching into the emotional realm of humans, exhibiting feelings and empathy like their real-life counterparts. Virtual medical assistant avatars are being used more and more to communicate with outpatients, like Sensley’s virtual nurse Molly, which doctors can personalise to different treatment and recovery regimens and communicates with her patients using speech, text, images, and video.

“Conversations between physician and patient are to date the most critical moments in healthcare. They affect not only diagnosis and treatment but also deliver a powerful placebo effect. Unfortunately, they are constrained by our physical word to short, stressful, episodic interactions”, explains John Reeves, CEO, Chief Medical Officer, conversationHEALTH. “The inherent power of conversational AI is to scale the ‘best’ conversations and make them available 24/7 on demand through text and voice bots.

With no two humans alike, the immediate challenge is to create a space built for the many, yet still curated for the individual.

Philp-Reeves emphasises the importance of understanding the range of potential conversations when tackling a particular condition. “We have a very rigorous process that now includes primary and secondary research. This ultimately yields around 200 structured conversations that meet about 90% of our user queries.”

“The conversations feel incredibly human – largely because they were actually crafted by humans, specifically humans that recognise the need for empathy and emotion in certain conversations and the need for clinical precision in others”, she adds.

Pharma should note that these conversations are built on platforms that are already used by the wider public such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Amazon’s Alexa. “It’s rare a pharma company would be able to build their own community that a consumer like you or I would actually go to on a regular basis. You want to go to the place they already are”, explains Eric Peacock, Co-Founder and CEO of MyHealthTeams.

Patients see their doctor once every 3 months, so there really is a need for a constant conversation with someone who gets it

Humanising the digital sphere isn’t only about giving a robot a pair of ears and a voice; it’s about creating a safe environment and a community that allows people to connect with others in similar situations. Peacock started MyHealthTeams when he realised there was a huge need for individuals with chronic conditions to connect with one another. “Patients see their doctor once every 3 months, so there really is a need for a constant conversation with someone who gets it. And you need it to be in a place that is authentic, that is just for you.” For that reason, MyHealthTeams went on to develop a social network for a number of conditions. “It just feels safer that way”, he adds.

“conversationHEALTH allows a space for teens to ask even the most embarrassing of questions”, explains Philp-Reeves. “A common theme we hear from our users is that chatbots afford them the privacy and anonymity to ask the questions that they wouldn’t usually ask.”

“With a bot you are alleviating a lot of the fear patients have. When you can overcome fear and give people hope – well that’s a magical thing in healthcare”, adds Dr Reeves.

The conventional divide between human and digital is becoming less clear. By taking the necessary steps to ensure the consumer portfolio is fully understood, marketers can start to create personalised experiences that become the face of the brand and help users in their search for digital’s beating pulse.

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