The COVID-19 pandemic urged an era of telemedicine into healthcare which was long due. Doctors and healthcare providers are now using different alternatives to in-person visits like video-calling, zoom meetings and messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to connect with their patients. Messenger Apps have long being used by various industries such as banking and textile to broaden their reach and power around the globe, and as usual the utilization of a messengers or chatbot for healthcare has only been around for a few months in healthcare owing to the pandemic, as the industry has been relatively slow to pick up the trends and implement it into their everyday activities. However, In the near future, messenger apps for healthcare are set to trigger widespread market change and become, along with telemedicine, the next major innovation.

Saying that, there are many ways in which messenger applications have already started to slip into healthcare. In an attempt to relieve pressure from the NHS 111 service and tackle the spread of misinformation, the UK Government has launched a WhatsApp chatbot to provide NHS advice. A Facebook Messenger version of its WHO Health Warning platform, providing immediate and reliable information about COVID-19, has also recently been introduced by the WHO through the global reach of Facebook.

But how will the future of messenger apps be for the healthcare industry?

Connecting professionals

Perhaps most importantly, their use will primarily be to consult with other professionals. WhatsApp provides real-time access to expert consultation-especially vital for junior doctors who need it to perform their duties properly. In particular, the use of group chats would effectively allow information from all facets of the patient care organism to be pooled. In addition, many clinicians used WhatsApp for a second opinion on vital imagery, such as radiographs, and a study also found that neonatologists discovered that they rendered more accurate integer when viewing these images on smartphones first, before later on a computer. 

Patient Engagement

Messenger applications are the means by which we connect in the modern world. Patient interaction would therefore be the most critical service for messenger apps for healthcare. After a consultation, it is well within reach to convey notes and findings directly to a patient, or to provide updates about medication and continuing care during treatment. Moving a step further, it will be easy to incorporate this with the current calendar of a computer, or to exchange notes with your healthcare provider on message engagement. There are also emotional ones, on top of these organisational advantages. A conversation, more than a letter or email, is the strongest, most human way of showing empathy and compassion, meaning it has a lot to give the patient experience-particularly in line with the increasing emphasis on emotional management. Maybe WhatsApp reminders could be helpful for mental disorders, where the battle for encouragement to take drugs is well-documented.

Eliminating extra work

The use of chatbots in minor consultations or booking appointments could go a long way in sharing the burden on health care systems. It could also assist by handing over  all the notes from the conversation neatly outlined to a human professional. This could remove the need for call centres and instead provide much-needed extra support for direct patient care. Small and large companies operating in the healthcare space will increase customer loyalty and accessibility through making appropriate use of the messenger apps and WhatsApp Business API to send fast, automated responses on a large scale to consumers and customers around the world.

Helping in clinical trials

Looking further, there’s also a huge potential for use in clinical trials, to help increase engagement throughout the trial. Why not engage with these trials through a WhatsApp chatbot to report results, symptoms and side effects? By using a platform that can be accessed from anywhere – that’s already front-of-mind for people – we’d be likely to significantly reduce drop-outs.

The most prominent use to messenger apps for healthcare professionals and organizations will be:

  • Symptom Assessment
  • Scheduling Appointments
  • Processing Payments
  • Finding the Right Doctor
  • Addressing FAOs
  • Update on Lab Reports
  • Record Keeping
  • Mental Health Counselling
  • Internal Team Coordination
  • Health Insurance Guidance
  • Reminders

Obviously, when considering all of the above, there are large privacy and security challenges raised. There are valid criticisms of common messenger apps which fall below the standards of medical practise. However, there is no better way to extend your healthcare services and satisfy your customers than to combine the advantages of chatbots for healthcare with the scope and power of the most common messaging app in the world.