The general practitioner is the first port of call for a patient; he plays a fundamental role in the health system and very often manages to diagnose a condition and suggest the correct treatment, without having to refer to other specialist clinicians.
Recent surveys suggest that many Italians are finding it increasingly difficult to contact their doctor or get an appointment at an appropriate time. Clearly, this has negative effects on people’s health.
Problems for the general practitioner
There are many possible reasons why it may be hard to see your doctor: he often works alone in his surgery, as he cannot afford an assistant to manage appointments and prescription requests.
He cannot always be in attendance at his surgery, as he has to undertake home visits for those who cannot leave the house. It is also not possible to reach him at any time, or even every day, including weekends, bank holidays, and pre-holiday periods.
The result is that patients very often do not know where to turn in times of need.
Benefits for patients
Chatbots are a way to help doctors, as they can continuously interact with patients and offer reliable solutions and answers to common problems, without the need for an appointment.
Also, patients can use a Chatbot to see when their doctor is available, and choose a day and time for an appointment.
They can also request a repeat prescription for a medicine used for an ongoing condition; the patient submits the request to the Chatbot, and this sends a message to the doctor who then prepares the prescription.
In the event of common illnesses such as colds or flu, the Chatbot can recommend appropriate medication and dosage, and explain possible interactions with any other drugs being taken at the same time.
If the Chatbot does not know how to respond to a specific problem, it can send a message to the doctor to inform him of a potentially critical situation.
Clearly, a Chatbot cannot take over the role of the doctor, but it can relieve him of simple tasks which take up precious time that could be used for patients’ appointments.
The benefits for doctors
In Lombardy, a recent reform has been greeted by doctors with a certain degree of restraint.
The law envisages that clinicians will act as managers for patients with chronic conditions, and be responsible for organising appointments, tests and medication. One of the main aims was to improve the therapy adherence, with the added benefit of considerable savings for the health service.
Many clinicians have dismissed the value of this reform, as it would mean a huge amount of extra work for a system already in difficulty.
The solution could therefore lie in the use of a Chatbot, which could incorporate a reminder function. This would inform the patient that it was time to have a check-up or some tests, or would automatically send a prescription request to the doctor when his supply of regular medication was about to run out.
The Chatbot could therefore really help to improve the doctor-patient relationship, not only by letting the patient feel freer to express himself but also by managing the time that the doctor has to give him.
Moreover, whenever a problem arose, people could use the Chatbot to access helpful information, and could be assured of its reliability as it had been submitted by experts in field, in contrast to some less dependable sources available on the Internet.