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Virtually Speaking

Can a Virtual Agent help make you healthier?

Posted by Michael Bloch on Jul 1, 2013 1:26:27 PM


A recent article in specialtypharmacytimes.com (article), citing work by Timothy Bickmore, PhD, associate professor at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science, talked about an exciting new idea: that forming relationships with a virtual assistant could actually make you healthier.

One of the bigger challenges in healthcare today is making sure that people take their medicine as regularly as possible and refill their prescriptions on-time without interruption. Research shows a direct correlation between the consistency with which someone takes their medicine and their long-term health. Recently, specialty pharmacies have found that the more human-to-human interactions, or what they call “touches” a person has, the better the chance that they’ll take their medication regularly and get their prescriptions refilled on time. Specialty pharmacies provide these “touches” by having staff take time out of their day to call each person who has an ongoing prescription.

The problem this creates is in the solution’s lack of scalability, with rising costs on the front-end for each human to human interaction. Right now, only the companies most dedicated to customer service are regularly in contact with every person who has a prescription, and that is putting pressure on their profitability.

A virtual health assistant (VHA), like the ones built at Next IT, has the potential to fill this gap, providing a much needed boost for pharmacies struggling to keep up with an ever increasing number of people they need to call. The VHA can make the reminders for the pharmacists and create that regular check-in that patients need. They also offer an advantage in consistency, because they lack the human quality of forgetfulness. The VHA can offer more services than a pharmacist is able to, helping out by maintaining contact information and offering directions to the local pharmacy. All this gives the patient better odds of taking their medicine and maintaining their health.

But a VHA is more than just reminders and conveniences. A VHA also has a persona, or the feel of a real person. When a patient perceives a VHA as person and less of just a reminder app, they can create an emotional bond – a personal connection. They will feel good when the VHA says “great,” “please,” and “thank you” for taking their medicine. When an emotional bond is formed, patients are even more likely to take their medications regularly, effectively improving their long-term health.

Virtual health assistants hold enormous potential for promoting wellness: they create that human-to-human touch, they help patients’ overall long-term health, and they keep everyone’s costs lower. And for specialty pharmacy companies, VHAs alleviate the pressure to keep scaling-up their own human resources. With these benefits on all sides of the spectrum, it seems inevitable that the role virtual health assistants will continue to expand. At the forefront is Next IT, whose Alme platform completes the circle with the VHA, the patient, and the pharmacy, making all these things possible not just in the future, but today.


Topics: Healthcare, Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA), Patient Engagement, User Experience