Chatbots are everywhere in healthcare news, with some outlets even proclaiming the AI-powered technology to be “the future of healthcare.” 

At the same time, you’ve likely heard about conversational AI’s potential to transform the industry too. 

But when it comes to provider- or payor-facing communications, like phone calls to retail pharmacies or major medical insurance companies, which technology is superior?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Conversational AI is a broader concept that includes chatbots

To answer the question, it’s first important to understand the differences between chatbots and conversational AI. One good way to think of conversational AI is as a broader concept encompassing any technology that facilitates a natural language interaction with an automated system. 

Chatbots are a subset of conversational AI, typically interacting with users through text and providing quick answers within a defined category. A good example you might be familiar with is the pop-up that often appears in the lower right-hand corner of a business website – it might allow you to ask basic questions about a product or, in healthcare, a diagnosis or medication.

While conversational AI may include simple chatbots, it also incorporates much larger and more complex systems with business logic and defined flows, capable of having longer, more involved conversations – not simply a “question – answer – question – answer” format.

Conversational AI is more suitable for complex, structured interactions

Conversational AI shines in complex use cases, where a structured conversation is required – so if you guessed conversational AI is better for complex, provider-facing use cases, you’re correct. This can include situations where certain questions need to be asked in a specific order, or when the system needs to extract and reference details provided earlier in the conversation – as you may have experienced in your own engagement with chatbots, they tend not to have lengthy “memory.”

At Infinitus, we’re conducting phone calls to payors and pharmacy benefit managers on behalf of customers who have specific data they need to acquire from any conversation in a structured manner. We have to follow certain guidelines and often ask questions in a specific order to make sure that the person on the other end of the line is able to provide the information necessary before moving on to the next question. Adding to the complexity of these conversations is the length – a complex conversational AI system is superior for long conversations which may have a lot of edge cases and “branches.”

Also in contrast to the reactive nature of chatbots, conversational AI systems can lead or drive a conversation, further making them a better fit for more complicated interactions. 

Chatbots work best for reactive, question-and-answer interactions

None of this is to say that chatbots don’t or shouldn’t have a role in healthcare. In fact, anecdotally, physicians have noted that in some cases patients approve of chatbot interactions at a higher rate than information provided digitally via the physicians themselves. But it’s clear that the technology is much better suited for direct question-and-answer needs within a limited topic area.

Basically, it’s fair to say that chatbots are ideally suited for straightforward, reactive interactions, where a user poses a question and the system provides an immediate response. They are a useful tool for fielding frequently asked questions, and don’t require extensive context or understanding of the user: You ask a question and it gives you an answer.

However, for more complex interactions that require additional user context or longer, more involved conversations, a more sophisticated conversational AI system would be better suited.

Get started with your healthcare AI strategy

Today, healthcare leaders are being charged with creating AI strategies, and the first step to successfully doing so is having a stronger grasp of the technology. As you’ve likely gleaned from the above, provider-facing needs are anything but simple. We can help.

Combining our deep expertise in AI and our understanding of the challenges facing today’s healthcare administrators, our ebook Separating AI Fact from Fiction will help you understand everything you need to know about AI to confidently incorporate it into your plans.