Amidst the pandemic that has shut down countries around the world, technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Health Assistants (VHA), Blockchain, etc. have become our ammunition to fight this novel virus. More companies and start-ups are looking into innovative solutions, such as virtual health assistants, to help flatten the curve. Indeed, VHAs are playing a crucial role in easing the challenges faced by the healthcare industry.

Before now, the healthcare industry has somehow managed using outdated technology and processes. However, with the rapid spread of the virus, challenges of overburdened healthcare systems have come to the forefront. However, with these virtual assistants and chatbots, we are witnessing a re-assessment of past delivery modalities and adaptations to the “new normal.” 

What is a Virtual Health Assistant (VHA)?

Within the healthcare industry, virtual health assistants are primarily used for the improvement of clinical workflows. It is also used to help healthcare professionals handle low-value admin tasks, like access to patients’ records, delivering therapy guidelines, medications, and general information to patients. And generally, providing non-clinical guidance more effectively so healthcare professionals can focus on their core tasks.

Here are other ways the virtual assistants are helping the health industry cope with the challenges of this pandemic.


Redefining Healthcare Delivery via Centralized Digital Centres 

VHAs are making an impact on the healthcare sector during this pandemic by providing centralized digital centers that use portable devices to enable swift decision-making and continuous clinical monitoring. Given the high number of patients currently in hospitals, the need for such technologies has become vital.

With these emerging VHA technologies, the health facilities can have similar command centers like what we find in the airport’s air traffic control (ATC) system. The current challenge is that most hospitals are late adopters of digital technologies. Thus the digital data required to run these command centers are lacking. Also, because hospital units do not have a unified database, it becomes difficult to collate and use the large but discreet amount of data.

Therefore virtual assistive technologies are solving this problem by helping hospitals move from episodic to collaborative and longitudinal care. With VHA, hospitals can make use of wearables and microfluidic sensors placed around the patients. The technology enables the continuous monitoring of patients and integration of the data to chart their “flight paths” and operational units. Thus, the real-time data gathered can be used to set up the clinical command center’s foundation. Through AI, assistive technology, the likelihood of patient harm, or unforeseen consequences can be predicted before they occur, and the suggested interventions can be provided to caregivers.

Digitizing Health Consumer Experience

Globally, consumers are accustomed to getting information with a simple click of a button. Whether it is for things such as the news, traffic situation, weather forecasts, essay review services on sites such as Alltopreviews or sites that write papers for you, etc. so, when it comes to health care questions, consumers expect the same. According to the Deloitte 2016 Survey of US Health Care Consumers, more consumers now go online to seek information on symptoms, treatments, medications or monitor health issues. People now only need to go to hospitals if necessary. It helps to free up hospital space and reduces the workload and burden on healthcare workers.  

With the help of AI-powered virtual health assistants, new digital technology can improve the patient’s experience by providing real-time access to medical knowledge. The VHA technology helps to answer consumers’ questions or direct their queries to the most appropriate person at the hospital. The virtual assistant responds to issues such as patients’ diagnoses, expected recovery experiences, and daily medication schedules.

An example of this is the Microsoft Healthcare Bot service. It is a cloud-based service that enables healthcare organizations to build and deploy AI virtual health assistants and chatbots that can enhance processes, services, and optimize costs. The Bots also have an in-built symptom checker, and language understanding models tuned to medical and clinical terminology.

Simplifying Admission and Discharge Processes

Now more than ever, hospitals are overwhelmed with their admission and discharge processes. It is affecting management efficiency and patient satisfaction. Most patients need to fill out multiple forms requesting similar data or face conflicting discharge instructions. With emerging virtual assistive technology, hospital processes can go digital to enable their staff to learn from and improve these processes.

For example, the OSF HealthCare in Peoria, Illinois, developed a COVID-19 Emergency Response Assistant feature using its existing Gyant digital assistant tool. The AI-powered tool screens patients for symptoms and risk factors of the virus. It then directs them to appropriate care settings and provides information about symptoms, prevention, and preparedness. OSF’s friendly virtual assistant Clare, supports patients before and during their healthcare journey, making it a smooth process from admission to discharge.

From the onset, the clinical, financial, and demographic information is easily gathered and pre-populated from the patient’s records. Additionally, AI algorithms can draw up customized discharge guidelines that will aid VHA delivery to the patient at discharge and post-discharge. Elizabeth, a virtual discharge nurse, developed at Northeastern University, guides patients through the discharge process using voice and animation. While a human nurse, due to time constraints, spends about eight minutes on the discharge process, the virtual assistant can dedicate from 30 minutes to an hour. Giving the patient all the info they might require.

 Securing Supply Chain contracting via Blockchain

Blockchain technology is gradually revolutionizing many healthcare operation processes. Blockchain helps to distribute accurate and secure data amongst stakeholders. It’s a foolproof mechanism with complete anonymity that guarantees absolute transparency, efficiency, and interoperability.

With the disruption of the global supply chains due to extended lockdowns, Blockchain has emerged as an alternative. It has proven its utility in data analytics for healthcare with the rapid spread of the pandemic. For example, HACERA, an enterprise Blockchain start-up, developed a platform called MiPasa to help with C0VID_19 data aggregation and analytics. The start-up has joined hands with Oracle and IBM on this project to help analyze the data from John Hopkins University, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Also, the project aims to aggregate data from disparate sources and helps to match similarities in them. It intends to ensure that the data in the system matches the original, and any discrepancies could be quickly reported. Besides this, here are other examples of how Blockchain can improve hospital operations processes:

  • Data interoperability: with Blockchain, there is an added security layer on health information exchanges (HIEs). So whenever healthcare providers render services to patients, they update their patients’ health data on a blockchain-enabled HIE. Because of these protected layers, patients can limit data access and choose the parts of their medical records to share with healthcare providers.
  • Supply chain management: with the increase in demand for hospital equipment, Blockchain can create efficiencies and improve safety in the areas of planning, purchasing, and tracking medical inventory. The complexities of the supply chain involving retailers, wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers (that might be in different parts of the world), accountability, and trust might be an issue. Thus, a Blockchain-enabled management system can aid the transfer and ownership of equipment across the supply chain. The processes can also be traced via a blockchain ledger using a peer-to-peer network.
  • Revenue cycle management: billing and payment errors are common in any sector, including healthcare. It is usually frustrating, especially for the customer billed incorrectly. Automated Blockchain-based payment process systems help to eliminate the need for intermediaries between hospitals, physicians, insurers, and customers. And likewise, it helps to reduce administrative costs.

Expansion of Programs and Training

Besides the expansion of healthcare services, virtual assistants are also being used to train staff on a shortened timeline. For hospitals that did not have VHA technology before the outbreak, or require additional services at this time, training has been a big obstacle. However, most virtual assistive technology providers offer full training modules to help healthcare facilities launch their software. While hands-on, one-on-one medical training will always remain, virtual training can become more prevalent among students and seasoned clinicians.

These virtual training can help surgeons prep for their surgeries before conducting them. And footage of the actual operation can be shared with their students or colleagues. Furthermore, to improve staff retention and reduce burnout, clinicians can be encouraged to enroll in self-care classes to help boost their mental and physical health.

Key Takeaways

It is essential to note that while virtual assistants won’t take the place of medical professionals, it most certainly will augment the work that healthcare workers’ put in and reduce the burden on them from the system.

Furthermore, with the growing need for more AI virtual assistive technologies in the healthcare industry, VHA could become the stimulant that speeds up the shift to where patients are provided with healthcare that’s adaptable, accessible, and affordable.

Dominic Beaulieu is a gaming enthusiast turned tech writer who covers an impressive variety of topics like design, development process, game marketing, and helps developers with spreading the word about their creations. He is a fluent French speaker, who also has mastered Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish. He has experience in software translation, tech counseling, project management, and digital marketing tailored for startups.  

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