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The Robot Will See You Now: Health-Care Chatbots Boom but Still Can’t Replace Doctors


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Artist's conception of a medical chatbot.

Many chatbots that evaluate patients are using artificial intelligence to understand the symptoms, match them to likely illnesses, and map the probability of an outcome.

Credit: Jean-Francois Podevin/The Washington Post

Scout's job is just to ask questions. A lot of them.

How long have you had a fever? Are you feeling short of breath? When you bend your neck forward, is there pain that is so severe it makes you want to cry?

If so, Scout might recommend a trip to the emergency room. Scout is usually overly cautious about these things. It kind of has to be, as a robot.

Scout is a conversational chatbot made by health tech company Gyant and used by Intermountain Healthcare in Utah to tell patients what they should do when they feel sick. It may suggest getting some good rest, or setting up a doctor's appointment or, oftentimes, making a trip to the ER or an urgent-care facility.

Chatbots such as Scout are often called "symptom checkers" because they are trained to ask about your ails and escalate serious issues to doctors when specific concerning conditions come up. These health-care chatbots have been used for years, but they exploded in popularity with health systems and insurance companies over the past year as the system became overwhelmed with coronavirus-related questions and treatment.

From The Washington Post
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