Healthcare chatbots using artificial intelligence likely to replace your telephone receptionist or medical secretary

Linsey Barber published an article in CITY AM last week entitled “Chatbots could save firms £8bn a year by 2020… with banking and healthcare expected to be the biggest sectors to benefit”.

Too many people underestimate the profound impact we’ll feel from automation. Many of us aren’t remotely aware that the jobs we do will not exist ten to twenty years from now.

According to an Oxford University study from 2013, robots could replace up to half of the US workforce within the next decade. PwC found that 30% of jobs in Britain are potentially under threat from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI).

Education, health and social care are sectors seen to be least threatened by robots because of the high proportion of tasks perceived as ‘hard to automate’. Doctors, surgeons, audiologists, nurses, psychologists, prosthetic makers and occupational therapists are among the 200 middle-class jobs least likely to be lost to automation.

However, there are some jobs in healthcare that are firmly in the cross-hairs. According to BBC news, telephone salespersons, for example, is the occupation most likely to be automated (1st out of 366) with a 99% chance.

Healthcare chatbots being tested for NHS patients

What will replace them? Many say ‘bots’. Programmers can configure bots to respond to customer queries or advise patients on symptoms using automated messages. Investors have injected £50 million into UK startup Babylon who is testing out using healthcare chatbots for patients as an alternative option to calling the NHS non-emergency 111 number. This is happening now, whether we like it or not.

We’ve played around with bots for recreational purposes. Most iPhone users have tried Siri. Some use home assistance services like Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Amazon Echo. Their effectiveness, while sometimes humorous and surprising, isn’t quite business-ready. However, many bot programmers suggest that bot effectiveness will increase dramatically and that they won’t need any human input to perform 75% of interactions in healthcare by 2020.

This is extraordinary. Consider the implications. Many call centre jobs will be entirely phased out in only ten to twenty years. Many medical secretaries will no longer have any telephone handling duties (likely much to their relief!) Sadly for them, 85% of their tasks will also be automated too. You might recall a recent article we published on this blog with regards to turning your website into a 24/7 receptionist with online scheduling software. This is happening, whether we like the idea or not.

If you do telephone sales and are working in private healthcare, what can you do?

Roles requiring abilities like:

  • thinking on your feet
  • being creative
  • demonstrating empathy
  • demonstrating emotional intelligence
  • using negotiating skills

hold a significant advantage to telemarketing or telephone reception jobs that are scripted or do not require a high degree of social intelligence. Encouraging your employer to arrange training for you to develop and hone these skills is crucial to remain employed into the 2020s.

In 10 to 20 years, we predict that only people with the above-mentioned skills will be employed in the telephone sales jobs that remain. Business sales executives, for example, have a much smaller chance of being automated (only 39.3% v the 99% chance of automation that we saw above for general salespersons).

Healthcare chatbots will take over duties that are repetitive and memorisation based. If you think about the poor customer service levels and lack of empathy you sometimes feel from a highly scripted telephone salesperson, then it is not surprising that these roles could be easily automated. The key is to focus on excelling at sales work that cannot be automated.

Companies with high investment products and services (e.g. premium) that take a consultative approach to sales will likely require some skilled salespeople. Smart salespeople will get the training they need to stay ahead of the bots, or the changing economy will insist they find another line of work.