How Montefiore uses chatbots to guide patients in a COVID-19 hotspot

In New York City, the health system is harnessing AI to help its patient population understand CDC guidelines and its own communications.
By Bill Siwicki
12:10 PM

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Montefiore Health System – located in the pandemic’s biggest hotspot, New York City – wanted to explore offering chatbot technology and other patient-facing resources to the community.

THE PROBLEM

Staff wanted to offer patients the ability to be directed to Montefiore information, but also be in a position to get answers to key questions they had about COVID-19. Being in New York City, they were facing an increasing volume of calls coming into doctors’ offices, an increased demand for services, and worried patients coming into emergency rooms and hospitals. Chatbot technology was meant to be an offering to provide value to patients and direct them to the care they needed.

“Prior to turning to chatbot technology, we looked at multiple vendors and some even asked us to build ourselves,” said Adrin Mammen, assistant vice president and patient access transformation officer at Montefiore Health System. “We knew we could do it if we had time. But time is exactly what we did not have given the imminent situation.”

PROPOSAL

Staff liked artificial intelligence-powered chatbot technology vendor Hyro because it offered tools that would be customizable to the organization and could be deployed out of the box quickly, she added.

“We had a system on our website in less than 48 hours,” said Mammen. “Meanwhile, two days after publishing, we were able to customize the solution even further with specific Montefiore resources, including phone numbers and websites that users could go to for additional information.”

Hyro offered the provider organization the ability to stand up an AI-fueled system that would dynamically be updated per the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 if they were to change, said Jeffrey Short, chief of staff to the CEO at Montefiore Health System.

“We were empowered to build up the technology around the standard CDC guidelines,” he said. “The vendor worked with us to meet an imminent patient need but they also understood the urgency of time. The same shared sense of urgency helped many individuals in the Montefiore community.”

MARKETPLACE

Vendors that offer chatbot technology and services include Care Sherpa, Conversa Health, Element Blue, Kore.ai, Lifelink, LivePerson, Orbita, Phase2, Podium, Sensely and SymphonyRM.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Montefiore Health System added the COVID-19 assistant to its website HTML code using a JavaScript snippet that was provided by Hyro.

“Our web team was readily able to deploy the technology,” Mammen said. “In one week’s time, we already had hundreds of unique daily users interacting with the conversational interface through both voice and text.”

RESULTS

The provider organization has been able to address a social need for its patient population visiting its website during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the first week of deployment, we already were witnessing hundreds of daily conversations with the COVID-19 screening tool and chat solution,” Short reported. “Additionally, we have been able to direct chatbot users to other key areas on the website, including our FAQ document and our patient portal application.”

ADVICE FOR OTHERS

“Chatbots are being used in many industries such as banking and hospitality; the adoption within healthcare is not as rampant as other industries but there are many use-cases,” said Mammen. “The greatest advantage is that patients can have immediate access to information. Chatbots can be used to engage with patients to address various needs.”

For example, chatbots can be used to triage patients and help direct patients to the appropriate care location, she said.

“Some of these chatbots are AI-driven and others have integrated robotic process automation to do sophisticated processes such as even scheduling patient appointments,” she added. “The key advice I would give is to think outside the box and consider the art of the possible versus what has been done.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.