Virtual Assistants Become the Newest Members of the Healthcare Team
BY: THERESA JACOBELLIS MARCH 18, 2014
“Hi. I’m Myra. When you’re ready, click on one of these links to get started,” she says in a warm voice with a confident and professional tone. “As a lifestyle health coach, I can tell you a good program starts with a health risk assessment. So, we have some questions about your medical history and your current health.”
With her hair pinned up in a bun and wearing a white lab coat, Myra is focused on assisting the patient with the completion of an online risk assessment form. She won’t be distracted by the needs of another patient, a ringing telephone, or a coworker. That’s because Myra isn’t human. She is an intelligent virtual assistant (IVA), an online consumer engagement tool that is helping to measurably improve the online user experience in the healthcare environment.
“The human voice is where you’re able to make an emotional connection with the online user,” explains Dennis McGuire, CEO of CodeBaby, a leading IVA technology provider. “About 40 percent of what users comprehend online is through audio, so we don’t use a computer-generated voice but an emotionally appropriate human voice to support whatever content and experience our clients are going after.”
CodeBaby was founded by physicians who launched and eventually sold a video gaming company while finishing their residency training. That experience equipped them with a vision of an online virtual assistant to guide users through various activities. Educational and training modules were among their earliest applications. They soon realized that healthcare is particularly well suited to using their technology.
“In healthcare, you have complex products and services where the user may not be comfortable with the subject matter and terminology,” says McGuire. “Consumers may need additional assistance to feel empowered in making correct decisions for themselves and their families.”
“Our lives have moved online. We do many things on the Web, and that has led to a wave of movement toward creating better customer experiences and self-service opportunities,” McGuire says. “We focus on making sure the brand, product, or service is giving consumers and patients the options they want to get information on their terms, within their time frame, using the channels they choose.”
With its interactive IVAs, CodeBaby has tried to simulate an online conversation. “We are trying to replicate what it’s like talking to a service rep on the phone,” says McGuire. “We create short interactive segments, so it’s not a one-way monologue.”
Data seems to support the value of offering consumers virtual online support. “We’ve helped clients achieve a 98 percent forms completion rate,” says Mike Smith, vice president of business development for CodeBaby. According to Smith, there are multiple applications for IVAs in the healthcare space. “They can be used for hospital check-in or insurance verification. Help desks at hospitals are amazingly overwhelmed. Using an IVA can cut call center time, and that means saving lots of man hours,” he says.
CodeBaby claims that organizations using its technology have experienced a 76 percent increase in customer engagement, a 27 percent increase in paying customer conversions, and an 80 percent increase in form accuracy. As online health insurance marketplaces debut around the country, virtual assistants can help walk consumers through the complex process of selecting an appropriate plan. Similarly, commercial insurance companies are finding the technology beneficial in helping their members navigate complicated and content-rich websites.
“Early research at Boston University with a rudimentary avatar providing discharge instructions in the patient’s native language resulted in a 30 percent lower readmission rate,” McGuire says. “When dealing with a human you don’t know very well, most of us don’t want to expose our ignorance, so we are less likely to drill down and ask questions. When interacting with an avatar online, people know it’s not a real human; it’s just a character, so they feel comfortable asking questions. They end up with a better understanding of the requirements of their situation, which results in better disease management.”
With a library of more than 80 characters that can be customized in terms of appearance, wardrobe, voice, and even language to suit the personality of the healthcare brand, CodeBaby offers an avatar for everybody. Avatars can even be customized according to the user’s preferences. And for those who prefer to go it alone, the avatar will happily disappear from the screen.