February 5, 2018

A three year clinic study taking place in the USA is trialling the use of AI chatbots loaded onto tablet devices, distributing the technology to elderly patients who are receiving end of life care.

Designed in consultation by doctors at Boston Medical Centre, the technology is being tested by 360 patients who have been told they have less than a year to live, in the hope that patients will be able to confide and seek emotional support more easily than with human doctors and health providers. (source)

AI tech to help assess stress and pain levels

We have become accustomed to chatbots appearing in everyday life, from customer support livechat services to Apple’s Siri AI system. This innovative study uses an AI chatbot, in the form of a middle-aged female digital character, which is preloaded with a number of capabilities and guides users via multiple-choice questions in order to stay on topic. The chatbot can cover clinical issues such as assessing pain levels and monitoring medication use as well as talking about stress, mood and even social and spiritual matters. Nurses closely monitor responses so they are able to intervene where necessary.

Previous 2016 research around using chatbots in the medical world saw some mental health patients displaying that they were more likely to convey true emotions when talking to a computer. This has promoted more studies, such as this one by Boston Medical Centre, to see how AI technology could be employed to give both effective care for patients as well as being very cost efficient. With patients being aware of having limited time with doctors whose workloads are increasingly stretched, the AI chatbot gives a chance to explore certain topics in the patient’s own time, helping to decrease anxiety around death or provide proactive steps in managing pain, for example.

An efficient way to provide and better understand palliative care needs

The theory that this clinical trial is testing is that patients might be more inclined to share their symptoms or ask questions they might not ask a doctor. The technology allows for the cataloging of patient responses too, making it easier for doctors, nurses, caregivers and family to better understand the needs of patients, ensuring the right health care is delivered in a timely way.

As technology increasingly finds its way into all aspects of life and shows exciting and promising application in the medical field, using AI interfaces to help think through our end of life choices and care needs may well become more commonplace as a means of healthcare support in a climate of aging populations.

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