Microsoft’s Health Bot fronts chatbots’ potential

With Health Bot, the global computing firm demonstrates just how powerful chatbot technology can be.
7 February 2019

Chatbots could be transformative across industries. Source: Shutterstock

The use of chatbots to handle sensitive situations with customers, beyond just alleviating some burden for the customer service department, has come to the fore in the last year or so— and now Microsoft has weighed in.

The Seattle tech giant has been experimenting with healthcare chatbots since 2017. Its Azure-hosted Health Bot offered a SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform for care providers to provide text, voice and touch-based chat features capable of replying to questions with natural language.

Health Bot is now generally available on the Azure marketplace, ready to integrate with platforms such as Skype, Cortana, Facebook, Slack, and SMS.

The launch of the product is certainly answering a demand; according to Statista, 27 percent of people said they would be most comfortable answering questions provided by virtual assistants than people— and that’s not to mention the potentially vast cost-savings as a result of reducing admin staff required in call centers.

Microsoft’s Health Bot is not, of course, the first time a chatbot has been deployed to handle sensitive situations— Woebot set up a service to provide virtual support for those dealing with mental health issues, for example— but it serves to show just how advanced the technology is becoming, beyond just fielding customer service queries.  

While the Health Bot follows the ‘traditional’ chatbot dialog-flow, it also allows developers to build conversational flows with symptom checkers that can scour medical databases and source information about previous conditions, health plan services and patient’s eligibility, and more.  

Screenshots of a Microsoft Health Bot application.

Screenshots of a Microsoft Health Bot application. Source: Microsoft/Azure

From the same chat, a patient could look up and book the next available appointment, while Azure’s NLP (natural language processing) technology can handle interruption, topic changes, human error, and complex questions.

At the same time, customers— such as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, can manage the Health Bot from a central API, with the ability to author new bots to suit the needs and particular queries of their clientele.  

“[Customers] don’t have to start from scratch,” said the developer team of Health Bot.

“[The Healthcare Bot service] has […] content knowledge, such as a symptom checker and information about conditions, medications, and procedures. It has language models trained to understand health care terminology. It understands if you are complaining or if you are asking about what doctor you should see or if you are thinking about side effects of a medication.”

For the medical and healthcare industry, it’s not hard to see the potential of Health Bot on both sides of the counter. Healthcare professionals are able to relinquish certain, admin-heavy tasks, while patients can submit sensitive queries without (undue) worry of judgment, as well as enjoying a near-instant service.

And beyond this sector, while adoption of chatbots is prevalent, it’s plain to see that other industries could benefit from a similarly powerful SaaS-based chatbot platform— able to be linked to vast databases and recall the correct nomenclature— backed by a company as established as Microsoft.

While no shortage of thought is given to customer journey analysis and maintaining communication with users, putting at least part of the management of your services into the hands of a chatbot— who your customers might even be more comfortable with— could allow your customers to freely explore options for services, costs, and eligibility.

Would your customers benefit from virtual interaction with your services?