How UCHealth’s virtual assistant helped patients navigate the pandemic

Start by finding out what your customers want, add capabilities slowly and test vigorously along the way to validate that you’re delivering the right information and experience.
– Nicole Caputo, Senior Director, Experience and Innovation at UCHealth 

During the pandemic, many Americans experienced difficulty obtaining medical information and receiving care given the constraints of lockdowns and social distancing. And barring emergencies, patients were less eager to visit the doctor’s office. Coupled with the isolation was growing confusion about the novel virus and vaccine. Why were some asymptomatic when others were not? Why do some people get lung damage?

The widespread feeling of uncertainty forced healthcare systems to think about ways to distribute accurate and reliable information, whether that be by making them aware of how to obtain information or notifying them how to connect with their physicians, among many other things. These circumstances forced healthcare systems to provide alternative ways of delivering care to homebound patients. Fusemachines AI Scientists have had success by leveraging virtual assistants to provide patients with accessible information quickly. Think Siri or Google Assistant. These are conversational AI systems users are comfortable going to for questions and, in this case, allow patients to converse via text, voice, or both. Patients may use these systems to ask health related questions, order a prescription, make appointments, and much more. 

Hospital systems around the country have already begun to champion these systems. Sarah White, Senior Director of Innovation and Health Systems Engineering at UCHealth, called their virtual assistant Livi the platform to an “all inclusive system.” 

Although COVID-19 limited how healthcare systems could engage with patients in many ways, the UCHealth innovation team was excited to see a growing number of users turning to Livi. With this came the need for expanded functionalities and additional information users were looking for. The UCHealth team had to address and better understand these novel exigencies. “We needed to answer and adapt to new patient needs that were being revealed as they used Livi,” remarked White.

The success of these types of systems demand a design that allows patients to ask questions easily in ways that are intuitive and accessible to the user. “It’s ultimately about offering better  information and access, faster, so patients can focus on the relationships that matter,” said Nicole Caputo, Senior Director, Experience and Innovation at UCHealth. 

Livi’s successful adoption as a solution can be attributed to a data culture that emphasizes the importance of patient experience and an environment that champions flexibility and innovation. “Our team’s role has been to charge forward into the future of medicine with our clinical champions while being able to adapt and pivot quickly.” Working in data and technology is like an experiment: trial and error and trial and error and so on. Failure is something one must be comfortable with, and if possible, grow to like. It’s important to fail fast and with the right strategy and vision propelling an idea forward. “We are all going to fail, it is part of innovation,” White said, “the important thing is to fail fast, pivot, learn from it and move on.” 

Critical to the success of virtual assistants is an ongoing iterative process of improvement and expanding its domain knowledge to provide new and better experiences: “You need to monitor interactions on a daily (almost hourly) basis; the more queries and feedback we can digest, the more we learn and the smarter (Livi) gets,” remarked Caputo. 

Virtual assistants will remain an important tool well after the pandemic according to many. “There will never be a pre-COVID-19 again. We know our virtual healthcare delivery system has evolved and when we come out of this, we will take our lessons learned and grow from them,” said White. “Going through queries and seeing what people ask Livi has allowed us to better understand the needs of our patients and visitors and understand more about how we grow into the future,” said Caputo. 

The near future of conversational AI, Livi specifically, is about providing personalized experiences in a conversational way to connect each person across their entire health and wellness journey, from discovery to living life. Healthcare is moving to the home, and Livi will be there to guide you along the way. Whether it’s asking and recording intake questions before your virtual appointment, monitoring your daily progress and motivating you, or finding you the best hike to get you outdoors, Livi will be there to keep you living your best life.

Tech Tip from Fuse: We highly recommend, when designing any AI system, to think heavily about training and onboarding for both internal and external users who will engage with these systems. That way, as the assistant evolves, people are aware of not only what’s possible with new features, but how to best utilize them. 

If your team is interested in better leveraging the latest in data science and AI solutions, check out some of the work Fusemachines Healthcare Practice is doing to push the industry forward. Fusemachines is a Global AI Services leader working with companies and governments to build cutting edge AI solutions to drive innovation. For more information, visit our AI Strategist Page.