Guest Column | December 15, 2020

2021 Healthcare IT Landscape: 5 Predictions For Voice And Chat

By Bill Rogers, CEO and co-founder, Orbita


The COVID-19 pandemic has stifled many activities and elements in our daily lives. Technology, on the other hand, has rapidly adapted and evolved to fill many of the gaps created by social distancing and the increased need for healthcare access. 

The unprecedented events of this year have particularly elevated the role of chat and voice solutions in the healthcare context. These solutions are designed to enhance communication and deliver more control and knowledge directly into the hands of patients. As healthcare providers grapple with overwhelming hospitalization rates and a high volume of patient questions and concerns, chat and voice solutions are positioned to reduce administrative burdens and assist in remote patient monitoring. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, technology adoption was met with several hurdles, including privacy concerns, federal regulations, and patient preferences for in-person care and communication. 2020 has showcased the power and benefits of intelligent chat and voice solutions and even altered some of the previous challenges to expand their use. 

In the next year, there will be numerous improvements to and expansions of chat and voice solutions, which will cement their role in the healthcare IT landscape. 

The Integration Of Biomarkers 

One of the prominent obstacles with tech adoption is the robotic nature of digital solutions, specifically their lack of empathy. In healthcare, patients want their fears and concerns validated and quelled, which is not easy to accomplish without a natural understanding of emotions and intuition. 

To add that layer of empathy, developers have started integrating biomarkers into chat and voice solutions so these tools can determine positive utterances from negative ones, even distinguishing sarcasm or frustration in a patient’s voice. Understanding context and these very-human social cues positions these solutions to better support patients with accurate responses and directions. Moving forward, this feature will strengthen chat and voice solutions, making them more intelligent and creating more incentive for widespread adoption. 

Augmenting Remote Patient Monitoring 

With the transition to patient-centric care, more emphasis is placed on remote patient monitoring systems and ensuring the care cycle is continuous. In the past, the limited methods of communication and patient tracking prohibited healthcare providers from prioritizing remote care and hindered patients’ motivation through their care plans. COVID-19 has further challenged this process but also cultivated more interest in remote patient monitoring plans and technologies for patients and providers alike. 

The incorporation of chat and voice solutions in remote patient monitoring programs provides a real-time connection between patients and providers. Particularly, wearable devices and interactive smart speakers make collecting and tracking vitals easier for people with varying levels of comfort with technology. As COVID-19 propels the healthcare industry deeper into the digital space, the adoption of these devices for patients to independently monitor and report vitals is likely to explode. 

The 5th Generation Technology Standard (5G) 

The telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.5% from 2017 to 2023. As many people progress with the telehealth movement, specific populations are left behind; particularly, low-income communities and rural populations. These groups disproportionately lack broad access to networks that support video calls and the exchange of large files or information online. Furthermore, the rise of wearables and interactive technologies are forcing a perspective shift, wherein patients will expect “always-on” and truly integrated care that current networks and infrastructure can support. 

5G offers increased bandwidth and higher speeds to most phones and devices. Leveraging this network’s capabilities for chat and voice solutions in the healthcare space could deliver even more proactive and continuous patient care. With a broader reach, more patients and providers will have remote access to each other. While evolution into remote healthcare has been rapid, the next few years will circle back to improve the delivery of care and support more patients. 

Even further, 5G is ushering in a new era of IoT with a low bandwidth cost-saving option that will be used in the next generation of home medical devices used to track vitals such as blood pressure, weight, glucose meter, blood oxygen, and sleep. 5G would eliminate the setup of devices that can be complex and down the line will be able to communicate with the user via voice.

Expansion Of Symptom Checkers 

A niche aspect of remote patient monitoring is checking symptoms. In the past year, targeted symptom checkers have emerged to assess a patient’s likelihood of a COVID-19 infection. Delivered through chat and voice services, these symptom checkers can gather patient context and deliver care recommendations to patients within the conversation. This tool minimizes unnecessary calls and appointments, and on the other hand, can escalate situations that require urgent attention. 

There are some concerns regarding the effectiveness of care suggestions independently made by virtual assistants, but virtual symptom checkers will likely be more widely adopted in the next year. Perhaps several years from now, there will be a scenario in which a chatbot can fully triage a patient’s symptoms by collecting information, relaying it back to a healthcare provider who would simply approve of the care plan, diagnosis, or care suggestions. This could streamline the delivery of care and even prevent human or technical errors with a system of checks and balances.  

AI As A Recommendation Engine 

What makes chat and voice solutions so successful is the power of conversational AI. With natural language processing and machine learning, this technology capitalizes on massive amounts of data and digests human language utterances to produce human-like interaction with a device.

With a greater acceptance of technology adoption in healthcare, even more data will become available and support the use of AI as a recommendation engine. This consists of collecting patient context and returning relevant, suggested content. A healthcare organization that offers sleep therapy, for example, focuses on monitoring the quality of patients’ sleep and certain behaviors. An AI-powered solution could use patient contexts such as device readings, vital signs, and previously suggested content to push more relevant and educational information through chat and voice technology. AI enables the technology to independently determine when to deliver that information, how much, and which content. It could even make suggestions to the care provider to switch to a better care journey pathway.

This has the potential to significantly augment remote care and monitoring while arming patients with verified, personalized knowledge. Today, many chat and voice solutions offer expected communication, this capability would advance chatbots to the next level of intelligence and autonomy. 

These five elements of healthcare chat and voice experiences have the potential to revolutionize the industry. Where and how exactly chat and voice solutions will adapt and move to is undefined, but it is very clear they are here to stay to progress the healthcare industry forward.