Digital health coaches revolutionize the patient experience

AI-powered apps help patients with Parkinson's Disease stay on track

Kindra Cooper

digital health coach

The recent growth of digital health coaches is reshaping the healthcare consumer experience, serving as a crucial stopgap for sufferers of chronic illness who don’t always have access to a healthcare provider.

With the average doctor’s visit lasting just 13-16 minutes, patients spend scant facetime with their doctor even while undergoing long-term medical treatment, which means they have to be self-sufficient in following a regimen, regulating medicine intake, or even self-diagnosing new symptoms.

This is where AI-powered digital health coaches come into play - they can remind you, check in with you, and offer general support around a specific illness or drug treatment. The PD Coach app, April, by global biopharmaceutical company UCB and Verint, The Customer Engagement Company, targets patients with Parkinson’s Disease, providing help and guidance through an app designed to address specific pain points that patients and their caregivers face.

Keeping patients on track with treatments

The virtual health assistant is analogous to a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device programmed specifically for people with Parkinson’s Disease, but rather than simply answering questions when prompted by a hotword, the app has a behavioral observation system that tracks whether the user is complying with treatment and medication, and delivers prompts and reminders accordingly. It can also help with diagnosis, symptom tracking and disease progression.

In the intermittent periods between doctor’s appointments, patients often slip up - data from the World Health Organization shows that compliance with long-term medical treatments is just 50 percent. And from the healthcare provider’s standpoint, it’s difficult to chart the patient’s progress in between doctor’s visits.  

“It’s not that patients set out to be non-compliant, it’s that life gets in the way,” says Jen Snell, VP of product marketing at Verint. “And when life does get in the way, the virtual health assistant can notice.” The app provides a dashboard of data points on symptoms, medication and treatment which the patient can share with their doctor or caregiver, while the AI is designed to track and report trends or anomalies.

Available for download through Google Play and Apple’s App Store, the app can also recommend support groups for you to join based on your location - a popular query among patients with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, who often feel isolated.

Proactive virtual assistants

The main value proposition for a digital health coach is its ability to initiate evidence-based, two-way dialogue, where the AI strikes up conversation the way a doctor or caregiver would - whether it’s a kick in the pants for skipping medication or a simple check-in to see whether that strange new symptom you reported yesterday has abated or aggravated.

“If you’re trending 100 percent compliant all the time and then all of a sudden you start to fall off, the intelligent virtual assistant will notice that and prompt you,” Snell adds. Indeed, many virtual assistants are designed to be proactive, such as the personal finance chatbot, Cleo, which sends periodic prompts and updates on your spending activity through Facebook Messenger.

Journaling is an important diagnostic tool for patients of chronic illness to track the effectiveness of a treatment or drug, and chart progress or regress. The PD Coach App enables users to submit journal entries by typing directly into the app or recording voice notes, which are then transcribed into text using speech-to-text capabilities. Furthermore, Verint analyzes the text to gain insights into the patient journey for future product development.

Virtual assistants as a source of VoC research

With such reams of data being collected on the patient experience, virtual health assistants become a rich source of Voice of Customer research for businesses developing healthcare solutions. Their very backbone is based on VoC research - it’s what powers their knowledge base.

With one of the largest libraries of expert-validated intents of any AI platform, Verint has been knee-deep in VoC research since its founding in 1994, studying customer intent from the perspective of the user and the business. One method of mining such data is deploying an AI tool to do a “scrape” of an online forum, say, for patients with diabetes.

“We can identify, say, the need to have specific diet information based on all of the chatter that’s going on in those forums,” Snell explains. “You’re getting real-world, point of need [insights] into what users are looking for and even the psychological motivations behind it.” By analyzing the data to see where patients tend to be non-compliant or the reasons why they might miss their medication, the AI gains insight into the patient journey and adapts accordingly.

In the realm of healthcare, customer experience failures can have life or death implications, which is why healthcare providers need to embrace the idea of customer-driven encounters, says Snell. “You’ve got a patient population that needs to get healthier and then you’ve got rising costs within healthcare itself - it’s ripe for digital transformation.”