In the ongoing fight against COVID-19, a monitoring tool in the form of a smart chatbot has emerged as a potent solution. At the onset of the pandemic, every country developed and deployed digital tools and applications. Monitoring apps, in particular, were deployed all over the world to digitally monitor people for symptoms.
The time-saving and life-saving pandemic tool
However, the Netherlands took a different approach and introduced a smart chatbot called GGDchat to combat the pandemic. In comparison to telephone monitoring, the use of chatbots resulted in a time saving of 85 per cent. A survey among the pilot participants showed that 82 per cent found the chatbot to be “user-friendly” while 91 per cent indicated that they would like to use the tool again in the future.
The result shows that chatbot could be used as a tool for the initial stage of healthcare like monitoring, reporting or detection of symptoms. The study also looked at the average call duration over the phone and the actions performed by the staff during the partly automated monitoring to reach the conclusion.
The chatbot also plugs one of the important gaps in the healthcare industry – staff shortage. The Netherlands and many other countries around the world experienced a shortage of staff during several waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. This made it difficult for authorities to carry out the source and contact tracing by telephone. The GGDchat became a solution to continue tracing and monitoring, even with limited staffing.
While automation offers opportunities to intensify monitoring without additional personnel, the study also found that some target groups might prefer digital monitoring.
GGDchat: What you need to know
GGDchat was introducced as a smart chatbot by GGD West-Brabant in collaboration with CM.com. The tool is primarily used for source and contact tracing during the pandemic. The chatbot is built using conversation AI Cloud from CM.com and has been found to be time-saving. Once a person has been tested positive for COVID-19, GGD immediately begins a full source and contact investigation.
It starts with speaking to the person testing positive and understanding their health and symptoms. It is then followed by finding out who this person came in contact with to identify the source and also whom this person could have infected. The next step is to identify anyone who could have been infected within a metre and a half. All these individuals need to call to see how they are feeling and if they are experiencing any symptoms.
GGD says an average source and contact investigation can take up to 8 full hours. With staff shortage and the virus spreading rapidly, GGD had to come up with a better solution, while making the process easier for citizens. With the challenges of capacity and customer friction looming, GGD decided to develop a chatbot. The primary idea was to make a chatbot in such a way that people can pass on information at their own time.
Initially, they thought of sending SMS in an automated way but soon realised that closed dialogue won’t be appropriate for this challenge. So, it decided to go with a conversational AI chatbot from which GGD can retrieve information in an interactive way and also combine it with SMS. It then built an intelligent chatbot using CM.com’s Conversational AI Cloud offering, which allows the chatbot to “run on its own website by means of the Default Chatbot Interface”.
The chatbot was also integrated with the Customer Data Platform to send SMS in an automated way. During the quarantine, the infected person receives an SMS every day with a link to GGDchat. The chatbot asks questions related to Coronavirus complaints. In case the concerned person logs any complaint, it is immediately forwarded to the test lane. In addition to accelerating, the chatbot also offers tips to prevent further infection.
“The flexibility of CM.com is enormous. Based on our wishes, adjustments have even been made to the solutions to make it workable for the GGD. The privacy assessment has been taken into account from the start,” Bart Schueler, Project leader GGDchat at GGD West-Brabant said about the initiative.
We have seen conversational AI and natural language processing being used to build chatbots like Xiaoice or digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. However, GGDchat shows that the technology can be extended to make a real impact with a healthcare chatbot that does the most crucial things like sourcing and contact tracing during the pandemic.
Future of conversational chatbots in healthcare
The pilot of GGDchat has proven that the chatbot is not only effective but also useful for citizens. The positive response from citizens to the chatbot allows the Netherlands and other countries to build similar digital tools.
The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is exploring the use of digital tools in infectious disease control. It is looking at a chatbot that can be used as a public information service such as contact research and monitoring. The chatbot can also be used in areas such as providing information for travellers or professional vaccinations. Lastly, the chatbot could play a vital role in anonymously asking questions about STD or other infectious diseases.