3 benefits of virtual health assistants
June 19, 2013 in Medical Technology
With all the changes buffeting the healthcare sector, these days, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening to the nation’s supply of doctors. According to a 2012 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, “the United States is projected to confront a shortage of 91,500 doctors by 2020.”
While, naturally, the most obvious solution to this looming problem is to figure out how to get more young people to become doctors, another partial solution is being built even as we speak.
As Victor Morrison, vice president of healthcare markets for Spokane, Wash.-based NextIT sees it, virtual health assistants (VHA) are on the cusp of playing a major role in the transformation of healthcare delivery.
NextIT is in the business of developing interfaces for people to use to talk to computers, and those interfaces – or avatars – have a way of taking on a life of their own. A couple of the more prominent avatars the company has developed are Sgt. Star, who answers questions about life in the U. S. Army at goarmy.com, and Ann, who “works” for Aetna.
In explaining NextIT’s work, Morrison repeatedly cited research conducted by Northeastern University’s Timothy Bickmore, who argues that so-called relational agents “can play a major role in the chronic disease management process by providing patients not only with an additional source of information about their disease, treatment regimen and adherence level, but with motivational support for taking care of themselves as well.”
But what does this mean in specific terms? Morrison points to three trends that are already underway: