Thomas Morrow, chief medical officer for Next IT, published an article in the American Journal of Managed Care (AMJC) entitled “Automated Intelligent Engagement Using a Virtual Health Assistant.” Morrow points out that human-to-human engagement is critical to improve patient outcomes, but this level of engagement is costly and hard to achieve in reality.
Virtual Health Assistants (VHAs) can fill the gap by standing in as proxies for health care providers and by helping patients with answers to questions, reminders, and motivational support. Morrow suggests that VHAs might even be better suited than human practitioners when it comes to following up on sensitive personal topics.
For example, he points out that a patient might be less inhibited about discussing a prescribed drug’s impact on sexual performance than if the patient were interacting with another human. In fact, I’ve written before about research that supports the view that people are generally more open with virtual humans / avatars than they are with other people (and this certainly holds true when the other person is an authority figure such as a physician).
Morrow sees huge promise for VHAs. He describes the technology as being in its teenage years. VHAs will be able to automate activities that currently reduce the amount of quality time doctors have to interact with their patients–such as record keeping in electronic health systems.
Morrow also envisions VHAs of the future as effective health coaches. The ideal VHA will get to know the patient and their lifestyle and then influence positive choices related to diet, exercise, and overall wellness. With the right motivational VHA as coach, and incentives and rewards, individuals might even avoid conditions that lead to disease and dependency on prescription medicines. Many of the activity trackers available in today’s wearables already allude to this capability.
Morrow lists the following companies as those that offer virtual assistant technologies specializing in health care.
I’ve written about Codebaby and Geppetto recently. Based on the AJMC article, Morrow plans to take a closer look at some of the companies in the list. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for his observations.