How Banner Health is using chatbots to help keep ED patients informed

For patients, a trip to the emergency department can be marred with anxiety and confusion. While tech can’t solve all of patients’ worries, Banner Health is looking to curb the confusion aspect with a chatbot system. 

“We know that most interactions with healthcare systems providers, doctors, you name it aren’t – with few exceptions – joyous and happy occasions. There is pain, there is suffering,” Steve Lindsey, operation director of Banner Health, said during the HIMSS20 Digital event Mobile Chatbots: Next-Gen Patient Engagement. “We wanted to figure out how can we leverage this technology … to reduce some of the [paint].”

Banner Health teamed up with chatbot company Lifelink to roll out a bot for an emergency department setting. Patients are able to enroll in the chatbot when they enter the emergency department to get updates about their care. 

The Banner bot is integrated with its EHR system. It can inform patients if a test or a lab was ordered and give them a timeline of their care. It is also informed by situations arising in the hospital. For example, if a doctor was scheduled to visit in 20 minutes, but a crisis emerged, then the bot can let the patient know of the new expected time of arrival. 

Banner Health started rolling this out as a pilot, but is now expanding the tool to all 28 of its hospitals.

While this is one example of how the tech is being implemented today, the pressures of modern healthcare have paved the way for chatbots for some time.

“There was a disruption taking place before covid. That was more about the industry trying to pivot to be more consumer centric,” Greg Kefer, Chief Marketing Officer at Lifelink, said during the presentation. “This is why the notion of patient engagement was talked about in a lot of the C-suite halls around the country or world: the need to shift from a fee-for-service model to one that is predicated on outcomes based on how Medicare reimburses, for example.”

The shortage of doctors and nurses nationally has been well documented for some time, leading hospital executives to search for new ways to meet patients’ needs. 

“At large I think the industry has always faced this problem of a human-capacity constraint. It’s kind of been amplified now that covid is out in the wild. The industry was suffering a human-capacity problem before covid came along. It isn’t something you can hire your way out of,” Kefer said. “You have to look at technology, and I think the dimension is, when you think of the consumer, what they are doing is voting through technology – you think of Yelp reviews or all the other ways that consumers have choice enabled through their devices – is really making a quantum shift in the way the industry has to think about how they deliver the experience.”

Ease is a major factor in deciding whether or not to implement a new tool for patients. Lindsey said that when implementing this new bot into Banner Health they wanted to take the burden away from the patient, not add to it. Since the emergency department chatbot, the health system has exapanded its use of bots to help cut down on paperwork for Medicare wellness visits. Lindsey said the adoption rate is over 50%, which he attributes to ease. 

“If you can text someone you can use this technology, and that is one of the biggest selling points,” Lindsey said. 

“This idea that you not only engage people through a better modality, but you also are weaving in a degree of conversational horsepower and scale that was not possible with human teams.”

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