Vimal Patel12/06/19

3 min read

Tech for good: end-of-life chatbot designed to help patients with difficult decisions

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A chatbot can transform the way people interact with the internet by mimicking conversation via text or voice. According to Gartner, chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by 2020 and the average person will have more conversations with bots than their spouse!  

The power of tech 

We live and breathe technology, but its power never ceases to amaze us. Take chatbots for example, they are creeping into a number of industries - from automated customer services to providing your very own digital personal shopper. But, imagine the impact a chatbot could have on a housebound elderly person with no family or friends. Or, a child that is dealing with the loss of a parent. Chatbots are set to transform the medical and charity sector by improving the way patients come to terms with their diagnosis and provide counsel to those in need.  

Marie Curie’s research into complex medical conditions found that the number of people in England with at least three long-term conditions is expected to rise from 1.9 million in 2008 to 2.9 million in 2018. The conversations involved with end-of-life treatment are incredibly difficult. Whether it is a conversation between a doctor and a patient or a parent and a child, they are laced with difficult decisions, judgement and emotion. 

Hello, how can I help today? 

An impartial, interactive chatbot can be used to provide emotional support to terminally ill patients and their families. Timothy Bickmore, a Professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, has built a tablet-based chatbot to offer spiritual and emotional guidance to people that need it.The chatbot was designed to offer a virtual conversational palliative care coach that works with individuals during their last year of life to help them manage symptoms, reduce stress, identify and address unmet spiritual needs, and support advance care planning. 

“People near the end of their lives sometimes do not get the chance to have these important conversations before it is too late”, says Timothy Bickmore.“We see a need for technology to intervene at an earlier point.”

Bickmore’s team, which consists of a number of doctors and hospital chaplains, tested the chatbot with 44 people aged 55 and over in Boston. Just under half had some kind of chronic illness, and nearly all had spent time with someone who was dying. After spending time talking to the chatbot, most of the participants reported they felt less anxious about death and were more ready to complete their last will and testament.

As AI gets smarter and its ability to gauge emotion and sensitivity improves, the benefits the technology can provide is endless. To find out more about how your charity could benefit from a chatbot, contact us today.

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