Providence St. Joseph began offering a pilot version of Grace last year to help patients navigate the often confusing landscape of same-day care options. Historically, patients who felt sick would visit a primary-care physician, or, for more serious or pressing concerns, the ED, said Sara Vaezy, the health system’s chief digital strategy and business development officer.
But that’s changed with growth with the availability of urgent care, retail clinics and digital health—and while “we’ve stood up all these different access points, which is great … we’re now potentially inadvertently confusing (patients), because they’re still getting familiar with all of these different access points,” she added.
The health system began rolling out Grace on its Express Care websites in June of last year, though only some people are able to access the service during testing. Express Care is Providence St. Joseph’s same-day care service, which includes retail clinics and telemedicine visits.
So far, 2% of those who had access to the chatbot have used it to navigate same-day care services, and the health system has seen more than 90% accuracy in its recommendations. The health system, which is still testing Grace, plans to roll it out systemwide by the end of next year.
And Providence is in good company.
Advocate Aurora Health, the combined system created by Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care’s merger last year, is also using a chatbot to help guide patients to the appropriate care setting.
The health system’s symptom-checker chatbot, which doesn’t have a name, assesses a patient’s symptoms in detail by using protocols based on Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content, the guidelines used by many medical call centers to triage patients. For a patient with an itchy eye, for example, the chatbot would ask about the severity and longevity of the issue, as well as characteristics of the patient’s other symptoms and conditions before suggesting where they should seek care.
“While it’s a fully autonomous machine, it’s using a decision tree that’s been well-proven in the clinical triage space,” said Jamey Shiels, system vice president for digital experience at Advocate Aurora.
Advocate Aurora developed the symptom checker in partnership with Microsoft Corp. using a cloud service the tech giant unveiled in 2017 to help healthcare organizations build and deploy industry-specific, HIPAA-compliant chatbots. Today, a beta version of the chatbot that the health system developed through the partnership is available on Aurora Health Care’s website, with plans to launch it on Advocate Health Care’s site in the future, Shiels said.
During a three-month window earlier this year, more than 2,000 people used the symptom checker, 35% of whom ultimately clicked on a recommendation from the program, according to Advocate Aurora data. The most common recommendation by the chatbot was urgent care, followed by a same-day or next-day appointment with a primary-care physician.
While health systems declined to share cost data on their chatbot projects, Buoy Health—a company that offers a symptom-checker chatbot and connects users with nearby providers—estimated that its service reduces healthcare costs by about $174 per use. That’s based on asking what level of care a user initially believes they’re seeking, and comparing that to what they say after receiving a recommendation, said Dr. Andrew Le, the startup’s co-founder and CEO.