Michael Yuan has a great post that looks at chatbots for healthcare and uses the great headline that “mHealth apps are so 2014!” Michael makes some great points about the challenges of getting patients to download mobile health apps and to get them to engage with those apps long term. There have been very few breakout hits in the mobile health app space.
For those not familiar with Chatbots, they essentially use artificial intelligence to appropriately respond to you on your favorite chat platform (Facebook Messenger, Kik, Whatsapp, Wechat (China), Google Messenger etc etc etc). Some of you may have seen my post about the way a Chinese Health Tracker integrates with WeChat. There are some really incredible benefits of engaging a patient on a messaging platform that they’re using daily already.
I think that most people just fear that messaging platforms aren’t powerful enough to really engage the patient. They often ask, can a text message change patient behavior? If you look at the WeChat integration mentioned above, you’ll see that most of these messaging platforms are becoming much more than just a set of simple text messages. However, let’s set that aside and just think about the power of a text message.
When Facebook announced their new partner program to allow people to create chatbots on their messaging platform, I asked my friend Melissa McCool from STI Innovations and MindStile if you could change people’s behavior with something as simple as a series of text messages. Her answer was a simple, “Yes.”
Of course, the devil’s in the details, but I trust that Melissa knows about how to influence patient behavior based on her experience doing it in many large healthcare organizations. The challenge isn’t technical though. Sending a text message, building a chat bot, sending a message on any of these platforms is completely academic. My 12 year old son could do it. What’s hard is what you should send, when you should send it and to whom.
While it’s great to see technology become easier and easier, that hasn’t made the challenge of behavior change that much easier. Sure, it’s great that the patient will actually read the message the majority of the time if you send it using one of these popular messaging apps. However, that doesn’t mean that the message will be effective. We still have a lot of work to send the right messages at the right time in the right way to the right people.