Chatbot campaign for flu shots bolsters patient response rate by 30%

Brett Swenson, MD, deployed a chatbot to improve engagement from EHRs to triage and found real success in reaching patients with information about flu shots.
By Laura Lovett
11:42 AM
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AI chatbots

Communicating with patients can be tough. Reminder pamphlets often go straight into the rubbish and emails are deleted before they are read. But one doctor found that chatbots could be a key to patient outreach. 

Brett Swenson, MD, is no stranger to digital health. He runs a concierge practice in Arizona and started working with EMRs about 20 years ago when they were first introduced. He said he is a keen adopter of new technology. 

So when he heard about using chatbots at a conference a little over a year ago he decided to dig a little deeper. A number of vendors are offering chatbots for healthcare, notably Babylon Health Buoy Health, Catalia Health, Florence, Memora Health, SapientX, SimplifiMed and Your.MD, among others. 

[Also: AI chatbots might be the money-savers hospitals are looking for]

Chatbots can be used in a number of different ways. One is to triage patients. In this scenario, the patient tells the bot about his or her symptoms and the bot responds with further options. 

Another way bots can be used is for administrative purposes, such as scheduling and communicating with patients. 

Swenson decided using the bots for administrative tasks was the best decision for his practice and he went with a product from SimplifiMed specifically to help facilitate communication between patients and clinicians. 

A key example of when his practice used this function was its annual flu initiative. During flu season the practice typically sent out pamphlets and emails to remind patients to get their shots. 

“We designed a campaign around the chatbot and sent a message invitation to all in the practice saying flu shots are in, are you interested in getting one?” Swenson said. “The response rate was dramatic.”

That response rate, in fact, jumped from around one percent when the practice used other channels to 30 percent with texting. The time it took patients to respond was also much faster than usual. 

“When you look at response rates the one [medium] that has nearly a 100 percent read rate is a text message as compared to an email or other channels,” Swenson said. “The chatbot really takes advantage of that.”  

What’s more, chatbots are also helping improve value-based care, according to Swenson. 

“We are responsible for providing a whole host of services and improving the health of our patients and being able to document all of the outreach that we need to do,” Swenson said. 

The practice has recently switched over to athenahealth so the chatbot can now integrate with the EMR system. In the future he said the practice will expand the chatbot use to some of the triage purposes.  

Brett Swenson will be speaking in the session, “Transitioning To Value-Based Care? A Chatbot May Help,”  scheduled at 10 a.m. March 8 in the Venetian, Palazzo B.

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Twitter: @lauralovett7
Email the writer: laura.lovett@himssmedia.com