How AI Virtual Assistants Are Transforming Healthcare and Healthcare Navigation

How AI Virtual Assistants Are Transforming Healthcare and Healthcare Navigation

As AI virtual health assistants are increasingly trusted to book appointments, manage patient care, and navigate health services, you may want a look under the hood of this flourishing technology.

Whether you’re considering using, developing, or investing in AI virtual health assistant technology, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll use our product, Healthee, as the prime example of how an AI virtual health assistant operates. Although Healthee is among the most advanced (if not THE most advanced) on the market, other AI virtual assistants work similarly, so the ideas we’ll explore are applicable across the board. 

What are AI virtual assistants in healthcare?

AI virtual assistants in healthcare are computer programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to perform various tasks and provide support in the healthcare industry.

They interact with users through Natural Language Processing (NLP), which allows them to understand and respond to spoken or written queries.

How does an AI virtual assistant work?

AI virtual assistants use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand and address users’ queries. Here’s a summary of how they work:

1. Prompt

The process starts when the user gives some form of input, a.k.a. a “prompt.”

The prompt can be in the form of:

  • Text
  • Voice command
  • Clicking a button
  • Uploading a file (images, videos, PDFs, etc.)

For example, a user of Healthee’s AI virtual health assistant may ask any of the following:

  • Which physical therapy clinics does my insurance plan cover?
  • Book an appointment with my physician this weekend.
  • How much do I have left in my HSA?

Then, the AI virtual assistant receives the prompt and proceeds to…


2. Understanding the user intent

After receiving input, the AI system uses NLP algorithms to understand the user’s query. 

Several learning models are used to analyze input in different formats. 

Speech recognition is used for voice inputs, enabling the AI to convert spoken words to text. 

There are also media learning models that process images and videos into fundamental components to extract meaningful information.

At this point, the AI technology identifies what information the user wants.


3. Retrieving data

Once the user intent and inquiry are recognized, the virtual assistant retrieves relevant data from various sources.

Some of the sources could include:

  • Medical knowledge databases,
  • Electronic health records,
  • Or other healthcare-related information.

In the case of Healthee, the user’s personal health records and insurance records are securely searched to provide a clear answer within a second or two.


4. Generating responses (or performing tasks)

The virtual assistant generates a response — using pre-programmed information, machine learning models, or a combination of both — that aims to present the required information in an easy-to-understand way.

Advanced virtual assistants aim to maintain context throughout a conversation. They consider the user’s previous queries and responses to provide more coherent and relevant information. 

This context-awareness enhances the user experience and allows for more conversational interactions.

For the in-network provider’s query (above), Healthee would provide a list of in-network providers based on the user’s location and insurance coverage — presenting prices and user ratings. 

Some AI virtual assistants, such as Healthee, can even execute tasks, such as scheduling appointments, setting reminders, or initiating specific actions.


Fun fact: Some AI virtual assistants, Healthee included, can even leverage machine learning algorithms to self-improve over time. They learn from user interactions and feedback, continuously refining their ability to understand queries and provide accurate responses.

Benefits of using an AI virtual health assistant

The use of AI virtual assistants in the healthcare industry brings about significant benefits. Some of the key advantages include:

Streamlined administrative processes

AI virtual assistants automate mundane and time-consuming tasks in healthcare, such as administrative processes, appointment scheduling, and data entry. This enables people in the user’s healthcare journey — such as their HR team, healthcare professionals, and insurance provider — to focus more on critical aspects of their jobs.


Increased patient engagement

Empowering patients with knowledge and involving them in their healthcare journey are critical aspects of modern healthcare.

An AI virtual assistant can play a significant role in achieving this by providing easily understandable information and cost-effective treatment recommendations. 

When patients have access to all the information they need, they can make more informed decisions, resulting in better health choices and more affordable healthcare.


Improved health outcomes

Providing users with a smoother, more informed healthcare experience makes it easier and cheaper to use their health benefits, which can facilitate better health outcomes.


Improved Health literacy

Every HR leader knows that one of the most important ways to improve employee experience is through improving employee healthcare experience, including improving health literacy.

An AI virtual assistant helps improve health literacy in an obvious way — by making the user’s health information easily accessible and navigatable. 


Greater accessibility

As opposed to most call centers, doctor’s offices, and HR personnel, AI Virtual assistants operate 24/7.

This means that users can seek information, schedule appointments, or receive assistance anytime. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with busy schedules or those requiring immediate assistance.


Reduced costs for companies

Admin spending accounts for 15 to 30 percent of the US health care spending, and, according to a Health Affairs analysis, at least half is considered wasteful.

Automating routine tasks through an AI virtual health assistant can increase the efficiency of healthcare operations.


Greater flexibility to scale

And AI virtual assistant can handle a high volume of inquiries simultaneously without a proportional increase in costs.


Data analysis and insights

A good AI virtual assistant can also collect and analyze large datasets to identify trends, correlations, and patterns in healthcare. This helps to provide insights into the prevalence of conditions, risk factors, treatment effectiveness, and predictive analytics for forecasting future health outcomes.

For example, employers can use Healthee’s analytics to help predict which health services will be most helpful to offer to employees based on what services they search for.


Why quality is essential with an AI virtual assistant in healthcare 

While AI virtual assistants offer significant benefits in healthcare, there is a wide spectrum of their quality. And when it comes to trusting a healthcare AI technology to lead users through the healthcare process, quality is king. Here are some reasons why:


High-quality AI can process human communication nuances

Healthcare conversations can involve nuanced and complex language especially when patients describe symptoms or discuss personal experiences. 

Less developed virtual assistants may fail to fully understand context, leading to misinterpretations and inaccurate responses. This is crucial for facilitating seamless conversations and ensuring that users can communicate in a way that feels natural to them.


Data privacy and security threats

Mishandling or breaches of sensitive health or financial information can have serious consequences.

Therefore, AI virtual health assistants like Healthee adhere to strict security protocols, encrypt sensitive information, and comply with data protection regulations like HIPAA.


Accuracy is dependent on the data source

Virtual assistants rely on algorithms and data to generate responses. 

The virtual assistant may produce unreliable or skewed results if the training data contains biases, inaccuracies, or lacks diversity.

Ensuring high-quality, representative, and unbiased training data is essential for accurate performance.


Human touch and empathy

The provider-patient relationship is a cornerstone of healthcare.

A perceived lack of empathy from an AI virtual assistant can undermine the user’s trust, as patients may feel that their emotional and personal needs are not adequately addressed or understood. On the other hand, a high-quality AI virtual assistant can provide an experience humans appreciate and may even prefer compared to speaking with a human.


Integration with existing systems

Integrating AI virtual assistants with existing healthcare systems can be challenging. 

Seamless compatibility and interoperability with electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems are crucial for successful implementation.


Common use cases of AI virtual assistants in healthcare

AI virtual assistants have found diverse applications in the healthcare industry. Here are some of the most notable examples:

Health information providers (Chatbots)

Virtual assistants provide users with accurate and up-to-date information about medical conditions, symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures. 

Users can inquire about health-related topics, and the virtual assistant can offer reliable information from trusted sources.

Healthee’s chatbot provides quick and easy answers to users about their healthcare benefits and their options.

Appointment scheduling

Virtual assistants streamline the appointment scheduling process by allowing users to:

  • Check appointment availability,
  • Book appointments,
  • And receive reminders. 

This reduces the administrative burden on healthcare staff and enhances the overall patient experience.

Healthee’s platform makes it possible for users to compare providers in- and out-of-network, prices, ratings, availability and more, and then schedule appointments right from the app.

Insurance-related inquiries

There are AI Virtual assistants who assist users in understanding and managing their health benefits. 

This reduces the administrative burden on a company’s HR staff and enhances transparency for patients.

Users can ask questions about specific terms, coverage limits, and policy details, helping them better understand their insurance plans.

Healthee’s very own AI health assistant, Zoe, goes even further by allowing users to compare different insurance plans based on their needs, preferences, and budget constraints.

Navigation of the medical billing processes

Virtual assistants can guide users through the claims submission process, helping them upload relevant documents, track the status of their claims, and receive updates on claim approvals or rejections. This improves transparency and reduces the administrative responsibility of insurance staff.

They can also provide patients with estimates of the costs associated with specific medical procedures, treatments, or appointments. This helps patients plan for out-of-pocket expenses and make informed decisions.

Some virtual assistants can assist patients in following up on unresolved claims, helping them understand the reasons for denials or delays and guiding them through the necessary steps for resolution.

Healthee is an end-to-end healthcare solution and, in addition to everything else it does, it also helps users through the entire medical billing process.

Medication management

Some AI virtual health assistants assist users in managing their medications by providing reminders for dosage schedules, refill information, and potential drug interactions. This promotes medication adherence and helps prevent missed doses.


Health insurance benefit optimization

Advanced virtual health assistants can analyze users’ medical histories, current health conditions, and insurance plan to provide personalized recommendations for optimizing benefits. This includes suggesting preventive screenings, wellness programs, and in-network providers.

These AI virtual assistants can also assist patients in coordinating benefits between multiple insurance plans. This is particularly valuable for patients with dual coverage or those navigating the coordination of benefits in blended families.


To sum it up

AI virtual assistants are transforming the healthcare industry by simplifying procedures, increasing access to health information, and enhancing patient outcomes. 

However, not all technology is created equal, and many different technologies are being touted as “AI.” The key is finding quality technology that is tried and tested and shows results.

If you would like to learn more about Healthee’s end-to-end AI virtual health assistant, click here.

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