Tools such as chatbots can make some aspects of RA treatment easier, but there’s still some skepticism from people with the condition.
Digital coaches have become a new tool for people trying to keep their rheumatoid arthritis (RA) under control.
The next step may be chatbots using artificial intelligence.
Are they also going to play a role in navigating the landscape of healthcare for people with RA?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere these days. From banking to customer service to fitness, robots and computers are becoming a staple in everyday life.
The field of healthcare is no exception.
Digital health, mHealth, e-medicine, telemed, and the hashtags #hcsm and #healthcareAI are taking off.
Electronic medical records and new medical apps for smartphones, tablets, and personal computers have allowed patient data and medical information to be easily stored and accessed.
A conversational AI feature — such as a chatbot, for example — could provide an even more personalized layer to the healthcare tech landscape.
A chatbot may help those with RA to refill a prescription or schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Chatbots can assist in customer-service related matters, or, in some cases, dole out general health advice, tips, or reminders using computer-generated responses based on user feedback.
For now, patients living with RA seem to have mixed feelings about the use of chatbots and AI.
“I’m not sure, as I’ve not used one before… but I do love talking with real humans,” said Heidi Foster of Washington, D.C.
The aversion to having a “conversation” with a robot seems to be part of the issue for users when it comes to chatbots and AI.
Some health tech apps and start-ups such as Noom, which focuses on weight loss and diabetes management, employ human coaches to lessen the awkwardness of interacting with a machine.
But artificial intelligence and chatbots can have some health applications aside from scheduling appointments, setting reminders, refilling prescriptions, and accessing electronic medical records.
One application in China was built where a chatbot even conducted basic medical triage.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, there’s one program that stands out.
It’s called Advantage SMART Practice and is an all-in-one electronic heath record and practice management solution powered by artificial intelligence.
It also has a rheumatology-specific system called Rheumatology Advantage, which debuted at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting.
Proponents expect Rheumatology Advantage to increase client efficacy and improve the experience of their clinical rheumatology visits by using AI technology and chatbots plus real-time data from the doctor’s office or hospital to further automate administrative tasks such as billing.
It should also eliminate unnecessary clinical steps in order to improve patient flow.
Some chatbots and AI apps are geared toward physicians. Some toward patients. Some target both.
As of now, most medical chatbots and conversational AI features are used for things such as scheduling appointments where Protected Health Information and Personal Identifying Information (PHI/PII) are kept to a minimum.
HIPAA laws make developers and healthcare providers leery about incorporating chatbots and conversational AI into their practice.
In the future, however, those with RA may see AI and chatbots far more deeply involved in their healthcare journey.
Amiee L., a Pennsylvania resident whose mother has RA and who is a new mother herself, told Healthline that she’s game for the use of chatbots for health-related things.
“I’m currently using a chatbot for breastfeeding,” she said. “It’s helpful at 2 a.m. when no one is awake and it also has great info.”
Lisa H., someone with RA also from Pennsylvania, said, “I use chatbots and love them.”
It remains a controversial topic, though — mostly out of skepticism or fear.
“I’m torn on the subject,” Holly G., who has RA and is also from Pennsylvania, told Healthline. “Part of me would, but part of me likes the old school ways of everything sometimes technology is scary to me.”
Pinar K., who is living with RA from Turkey, see pros and cons.
“A chatbot would be useful for scheduling and confirming appointments, refilling prescriptions — though digital signage and blockchain should be incorporated for the specific medications, and finding or establishing communities like the forums that provide a lot of support,” Pinar told Healthline. “My concerns are data privacy and security. With AI in the hospital, robot assisted surgery is a yes but ‘only robot’ is a bit daunting.”
For some with RA, it’s much more straightforward as to whether or not they want to use AI or chatbots in their healthcare.
Tammy K. of Minnesota puts it simply: “No.”