Young Americans may be ready for robotic medical assistants

When given the choice most people in their 40s or older prefer speaking with a live person to interacting with an automated system. But make people pay more for the privilege –as in the case of booking an airline ticket– and many will figure out how to adapt. As a gross generalization younger people, sometimes referred to as “digital natives” may be equally or more comfortable dealing with a machine, so long as it’s one with robust functionality and a strong user interface. Although I’m a bit older I’d put myself in the digital native category.

I was thinking about this notion while reading about a survey (conducted by CouponCodes4u, presumably as some sort of SEO gambit). From Healthcare IT News:

About one third of Americans are willing to receive some of their healthcare from robots, and 98 percent said they would receive robot care if it meant lower co-pays and health insurance costs.

A survey… of 1,723 Americans, aged 18-30, found 34 percent said that they would opt for care from a remote presence virtual and independent telemedicine assistant robot (RP-VITA), if given the choice, while 5 percent of respondents claimed to be “indifferent.”

To be fair, the survey seems to be describing a scenario where there’s a real, live doctor on the other end of the connection, so we’re not talking about cutting the doctor out of the loop, at least initially. But it is interesting that there seems to be such cost sensitivity.

Despite my technophilia, I’m not wildly enthusiastic about this idea. Think about what happens in a “chat” session with an online customer service representative. The reps clearly seem to have a lot of stock phrases they can fire off, presumably with some sort of one-click hotkey. There’s also a lot of lag time between question and answer, presumably because the CSRs are multi-tasking with multiple customers at a time to maximize their productivity.

I do fear that the downsides of the chat model could come to dominate the remote consultation business, at least in the mass market segment.

August 15, 2012

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