Companies Focused on Using AI and NLP for Patient Education, Behavior Modification: Part 2

Thomas Morrow, MD, is the chief medical officer for Next IT. His current position is the culmination of his passion to improve clinical outcomes for people with chronic disease through the use advanced natural language processing and artificial intelligence. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, practiced family medicine for 14 years, and held a variety of positions including a faculty position at a residency and medical school, staff physician at a staff model health maintenance organization, and numerous medical director positions at multiple health plans.
Another 2 companies that are using natural language processing and artificial intelligence in their efforts on direct-to-person health coaching.
In the last article, I took a look at 2 of the companies that creating virtual health assistants for direct-to-person coaching, lifestyle change, and adherence: CodeBaby and Intelligent Digital Avatars. This time, we’ll delve into 2 more companies in this space. (In alphabetical order.)
MedRespond’s Healthcare Guide system, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University over the past decade, invites patients to engage in a dialogue with an expert on video—healthcare providers, researchers, and fellow patients. This company uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand the intent of the patient’s need(s), and then triggers the human expert in a video recording to discuss this exact need, which lets patients see and hear real healthcare professionals answer their questions via simulated conversations. It is MedRespond’s feeling that this approach gives patients the information they need with a very human touch. 

MedRespond’s agents can handle a variety of diseases, including asthma and heart disease, surgical procedures, as well as very sensitive issues such as palliative and end-of-life care. For the latter, its system helps patients understand their options, and then allows them to explore their concerns—genuine fears of death and how they can help their families cope. In this way MedRespond feels that a Virtual Healthcare Guide can provide a safe, private place for patients to work through their thoughts and priorities around some of the most personal and challenging healthcare choices.

MedRespond has also created a surgical preparation application. As an example, patients preparing for open-heart surgery are given instructions and answers to their questions about their surgery the week and day before surgery as well as during recovery. The Virtual Healthcare Guide explains every aspect of the procedure— the medications used, surgical prep, what to eat and drink, the importance of using a spirometer (with instructions), etc. In addition to providing information and instruction around cardiac procedures, the Guide helps patients deal with a range of personal and emotional issues associated with the surgery, such as how frightening it can be when they first awake after surgery.

Patients can access the Guide online, anytime, anywhere. They can revisit the Guide as often as they choose and can share the information with family and friends. The average time on the site during the rollout has been 1 hour and 20 minutes, although some patients actually “conversed” for well over 2 hours. The most common question asked was “Will I be in pain?”

Of interest is how patients respond to the Virtual Healthcare Guide—especially their acceptance that such guides are comforting resources that add to the patient experience. It is MedRespond’s belief that patients welcome the availability of a Virtual Healthcare Guide and have positive responses when they engage with a Virtual Healthcare Guide.

The patient experience is reflected in the way that patients interact with the Guide. When the Guide asks if the patient would like to see a tour of the intensive care unit, patients politely respond, “No, thank you.” Patients who have to exit the program tell their Guide, “I’ll be right back.” They are treating the agent not as a machine, but as they would treat a human.

Through post-surgery interviews with patients using the program, MedRespond discovered that patients who were initially nervous and apprehensive before surgery, reported being comforted and calmed by the information and support from the Virtual Healthcare Guide. 

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