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At SXSW: ‘Healthbots’ Are Making House Calls To Improve Your Health And Wellbeing

At SXSW: ‘Healthbots’ Are Making House Calls To Improve Your Health And Wellbeing

By Steve Cook, UpwellBeing Contributing Writer

March 14, 2019 — Did you know that U.S. consumers now spend more than five hours a day on their smartphones?  When you throw in the other new connected devices and wearables we will be adopting during the Internet of Things transformation, even more digital connectivity will become part of our daily lives.

While many industries have introduced connected, mobile devices that have quickly been adopted by consumers, the health and wellness world has been busy doing research to understand how to get involved. This weekend, for example, will see the results of the biggest heart screening study ever conducted using the technology of the latest Apple Watch to detect heart rhythm problems. The hope is by constant monitoring, consumers can be alerted early to the possibility of a serious heart condition, such as atrial fibrillation.

There’s no doubt that medical technology (med-tech), pharmaceutical, and other health-related products and providers can deliver mobile, connected medical products and services to improve various health conditions.

To that end, last week, in Austin, TX, during the SXSW 2019 Energizing Health sessions, a major topic of discussion was how to build these mobile, medical connected products and services. One such speaker was Sander Ruitenberg, worldwide digital solutions head, Immunology, Hepatology & Dermatology, at Novartis. In his keynote, titled “Rise of the Healthbots,” he shared his insights into how “healthbots” will play a role in an increasingly connected world.

“The reality is that people are increasingly connected on many types of devices,” he told the audience at SXSW. “When you think about how to optimize care that leads to better health outcomes, there are so many opportunities to engage with patients, and we are only now starting the journey.”

Ruitenberg explained that many of the efforts being made to engage with healthcare audiences on different connected devices and new channels are only just beginning. “These early versions will help us learn the potential,” he said, “and how to build awareness, engagement, activation, usage, and adherence leading to improved therapeutic outcomes. We are initially focused on healthbots and chatbots.”

 In order to connect with consumers, those developing healthbots understand that they need to:

  • Acknowledge that each consumer is unique
  • Understand that even older consumers are digitally savvy
  • Deliver user experiences at a high level to meet consumer expectations
  • Provide insightful, relevant health-care information and advice
  • Offer 24/7/365 seamless connectivity across multiple devices
  • Connect consumers to their peers to be able to tap into other’s advice and share experiences
  • Provide a voice to consumers regarding their healthcare management and be listened to.

According to Ruitenberg: “What we’ve already learned from our research is that to maximize healthbot potential, we must stay relevant for the user to create interactivity with them. We’ve learned that people don’t want to talk about their symptoms and disease when they first engage.” As a result, Ruitenberg suggested that medical professionals or caregivers need to understand the person they are engaging with when involved in a digital interactive connection. “Their personality, preferences, attitudes, level of engagement with their own health and goals, lifestyle, and needs are all important,” he explained.

Novarits has been experimenting with an intelligent chatbot called Alia, designed to help people with psoriasis or chronic urticaria. In designing this chatbot to be useful to a diverse range of people, Novartis recognized that:

  • Patients have different levels of engagement
  • Chatbots can help streamline and personalize engagement
  • A better consumer experience can be created through interactivity
  • Content needs to be provided at the right time through the right connected devices
  • Providing information about patient lifestyle, symptoms, disease background, and treatment options is important

With these guidelines in mind, Alia specializes in retrieving information and providing a sounding board for those seeking help with their skin conditions. Consumers are first asked a series of questions so the bot can get a better idea of what kind of help will be needed and then the bot-to-consumer conversation can begin. Alia is even rendered to provide comic relief in the form of a GIF if you mention you’re feeling down that day. With chatbots being programmed to be more intuitive, consumers will be able to have access to more information and more support than ever before.

Ruitenberg concluded: “To me, ultimately, a great healthbot will be one that increases value for the patient and will be intuitive to a patient, caregiver, and physician. A patient needs to believe that the healthbot is helping them live a healthier, better life.”

This is no longer science fiction—healthbots are really on their way to help you stay fit and well . . .and they make digital house calls.

Ruitenberg’s full presentation can be viewed here.