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Avatars Presented as a Possible Way to Address the Challenges Facing Healthcare Contact Centers

ICMI recently posted an article in response to Dr. Thomas Morrow’s research that yielded two important articles concerning the viability and possible benefits of Intelligent Virtual Agents in healthcare. Healthcare call centers have never been under greater pressure – but,  as the Affordable Care Act introduces new challenges, so it creates the opportunity for businesss to capitalize on the pressing need for innovative solutions to meet exchange demands attributable to increased Medicaid enrollment. In other words, the opportunity for business innovation is in direct proportion to the dramatic changes to the landscape of medical insurance.

Not since the Y2K push have we seen preparations like the ones we are currently seeing in hospitals, state and federal echanges in order to be able to accommodate the increase in accessible health plans. To build and/or rent inbound call centers? What about the creation of policies and procedures? How about the logistical challenges of data systems and processes?Last, there is the obvious need to hire tens of thousands of inbound services agents to manage the increasing demands – and, how will these new agents blend with previously disenfranchised members; this impending dynamic is sure to challenge even experienced inbound call center managers. So, call centers will anticipate the possibility of a high turnover rate and over-staff – thus, managers plan for turnover to correct staff overage and simultaneously necessitate regular hiring and training of new agents over the years ahead.

So, what is an avatar? The term ‘avatar’ refers to what is properly called an Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) – essentially, an avatar is an interface designed to emulate typical human interaction for inbound services. The goal is to create avatars that can provide answers and solutions in exactly the same way as a human call center agent. By the development of advanced artificial intelligence platforms IVAs are designed for natural language recognition and to equal the performance of the best human agents. Of course, computer-agents have limitations, but with continuous updating and improvements, these agents can “learn” to field approximately 80% of your inbound services volume – and, to do so at a drastically reduced cost.

Intelligent Virtual Agents do not: become bored; speak loudly or behave disruptively; feel insulted; require increased compensation over time; take breaks; require refreshers on company basics; quit; or, take extended periods of leave. Best of all, Virtual Agents don’t work set shifts, need over-time pay, or, go home at quitting time! In addition, avatars are able to “hot-transfer” more complex calls to human agents who will transition into a highly specialized focus group of “super-experts” at your inbound call center.

But, how do IVR systems drive phone-user action? In short, IVR systems do so through one-way, pre-programmed dialogue. Rudimentary speech recognition and telephone keypad touch-tones are used to interpret the response of the caller and to initiate voice prompts, which lead the caller to a series of predetermined terminal points. Historically, web-based chat bots merely scanned for keywords within text input and pulled replies that displayed the most instances of matching keywords, or, wording patterns that were the most similar to the textual database from which they derive – in that sense, they acted very similarly to a search engine.

Intelligent Virtual Agents are able to process inputs of any kind; whether the inputs come from speech, text, or the touch of a smartphone or tablet screen in response to various prompts. IVR understands the precise meaning of messages and uses the information received to provide the most desirable possible solution for the user. The IVR system is designed such that it is able to “learn” over time – because of this, it becomes increasingly smooth when responding to the inbound service needs of users. The combined effect of all of these improvements and capabilities is a very robust experience delivered to the user.

Numerous industries including most major airlines, numerous financial institutions, the U.S. Army, and one of the largest national health plans already make extensive use of IVR systems in their inbound call centers. IVR systems demonstrate an unrivaled ability to understand and learn; in fact, in the neighbourhood of 99.9% of interactions are shown to be “understood” by the Intelligent Virtual Agent. Also, if IVR systems can access any necessary databases, they can answer the vast majority of user needs satisfactorily, which deflects approximately 80% of inbound services from your human agents.

In addition to all of the applications already mentioned, there are other significant possibilities for Intelligent Virtual Agents – specifically, in the healthcare industry. IVAs can serve as Virtual Health Assistants for patients/clients. IVAs can be used via smart apps on smartphones tablets in order to stimulate and improve compliance with medication and lifestyle program changes especially for those suffering from chronic diseases. Furthermore, they can remind people who need immunizations and age appropriate periodic health screening, which promotes detection and diagnosis of diseases. Through numerous clinical trials the effectiveness of IVAs has been documented and demonstrated to lower readmission rates to hospitals as well as motivate adherence to prescribed medications.

To read the rest of Dr. Thomas Morrow’s article, click here.


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