Chatbots in healthcare can be useful during the COVID-19 pandemic if the chatbot’s ability, patient compliance, integrity, and benevolence match up to a human agent, a study finds.
Chatbots in healthcare can boost access to care for individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, given that it delivers the same quality as human agents, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
The key, researchers found, is to emphasize the chatbot’s ability and assure users that it delivers the same quality as human agents.
The primary factor driving user response to screening hotlines (human or chatbot) was perceptions of the agent’s ability. When ability was the same, users viewed chatbots no differently or more positively than human agents.
Trust was the most important factor that influenced the use of chatbots, as well as patient compliance. This was followed by integrity and benevolence.
Researchers’ main objective was to understand how individuals respond to COVID-19 screening chatbots. They enrolled 371 participants who viewed COVID-19 sessions between a chatbot and a user with mild or severe symptoms in an online experiment.
Researchers conducted a two-by-two between-subjects — two agent types, human versus chatbot, by two patient severity levels, mild versus severe.
“Ability and integrity are typically more important for instrumental outcomes associated with transactions (e.g., purchasing) because users are most concerned with whether the technology will work as intended to complete the transaction,” researchers said in the study.
“Affect and other perceptual outcomes (e.g., satisfaction) are often influenced more by benevolence as these are based more on relationship aspects of technology use.”
Overall, the first part of the analysis uncovered that participants perceived the chatbots to have significantly less ability, integrity, and benevolence.
In the second part of the analysis, researchers said they examined five outcomes, including:
The likelihood of following the agent’s advice
The likelihood of use
The most dominant factor across all five outcomes was perceived ability, with a secondary factor having a slightly positive effect on persuasiveness and satisfaction, followed by likelihood of following the agent’s advice and likelihood of use.
Additionally, severity of the condition did not directly affect the outcomes or moderate the relationship between chatbot and outcomes, researchers said.
“Developing a high-quality COVID-19 screening chatbot—as qualified as a trained human agent—will help alleviate the increased load on COVID-19 contact centers staffed by human agents. When chatbots are perceived to provide the same service quality as human agents, users are more likely to see them as persuasive, be more satisfied, and be more likely to use them,” researchers explained.
“A user’s tech-savviness (PIIT) has only a small effect, so these results apply to both those with deep technology experience and those with little. Chatbots are vital during the pandemic to relieve the pressure on contact centers.”
During COVID-19, individuals with symptoms and conditions look for guidance on whether to seek medical attention, so providing accurate information is crucial.
Chatbots are useful because they’re scalable and can meet any surges in demand when there is a shortage of qualified human agents.
“Chatbots can provide round-the-clock service at a low operational cost. They are consistent in quality in that they always provide the same results in response to the same inputs, and are easily retrained in the face of rapidly changing information,” researchers explained.
“Chatbots are also non-judgmental; they make no moral judgments about the information provided by the user, so users may be more willing to disclose socially undesirable information.”