“Hi, I’m your COVID-19 chatbot mentor. I’m here to help you better understand COVID-19 and to help you and your significant others stay as healthy as possible. Do you give me permission to communicate with you using SMS texting? YES or NO.”
“Awesome! Please follow medical medical advice to stop the spread of COVID-19. Text STOP any time to unsubscribe. Have you been tested for COVID-19?”
“Have you been told you may have COVID-19?”
Vince Han of Txtonomy.
“Cornaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some infect people and other infect only animals. Most coronaviruses in humans cause what we often refer to as the ‘common cold.’ Some coronaviruses, such as MERS and SARS, cause very serious infections. COVID-19 appears to be more serious than routine coronaviruses, but not as serious as MERS or SARS.
“For more information see the CDC COVID-19 fact sheet: https://mbl.coach/b033YD. You may text me about the following topics concerning COVID-19: A) COVID-19 care. B) Possible COVID-19. C) Virus info. D) Symptoms. E) Prevention. F) Protection. G) Testing. H) Resources (this includes a hotline, guidelines, and facts). I) Share me. J) Stats. You may also text KEYWORDS if you need this list of topics again.
“It’s important you get more details on COVID-19. You may use any previous keywords. Text CONTINUE when you are ready to learn about symptoms.”
Welcome to the world of medical chatbots, the doctor’s best friend and most loyal assistant, if the founders of Provo, Utah-based Txtonomy have their way. The dialogue above began by simply texting COVID-19 to a number provided by Txtonomy.
“We provide the right dose of information to individuals at the right time,” said Dr. Carl Black, one of three co-founders of Txtonomy. “You could easily be saturated with information. A chatbot piecemeals out a concept in a personal way. That’s the genius behind this.”
Black said when he and co-founders Cliff Park and Vince Han first entertained using a chatbot to increase patient compliance with doctors’ orders they worried that texting would be too impersonal.
“It’s the opposite, it feels like a friend,” Black said. “People prefer it over video. Chat has tremendous power to change behavior. That’s the secret sauce behind this.”
In addition to being a co-founder of Txtonomy Black is also an interventional radiologist, using imaging guidance to perform surgery, primarily on patients suffering from vascular disease and cancer. Vince Han is a technologist who created his first chatbot in the sixth grade, according to the website for MobileCoach, another company founded by Han that claims to be the “leading enterprise SaaS platform for designing, deploying and managing chatbots.
Cliff Park is the chief executive officer of Monovo, a health technology startup in West Jordan, Utah, in addition to being a board member of Txtonomy.
Black said one of the strengths of Txtonomy is that it has more than 10 board-certified specialists who help provide content for its chatbots.
“We have a library of content that’s been vetted and is scientifically sound, which we customize to suit the needs of a practice or health care organization,” Black said.
In addition to COVID-19, the company has chatbots available for bariatric surgery, diabetes management, lumbar fusion surgery, post-mastectomy care, opioid management, pregnancy, weight loss, venous disease and total knee replacement, as well as custom module development.
Txtonomy’s business model is subscription-based. Doctors’ offices and other health care organizations pay a monthly fee depending on the number of patients they have.
“We’re taking a great idea, proven in business and applying it to medicine,” Black said. “We’re solving a very important pain point, non-compliance.”
Patients aren’t compliant, he said, because they’re overwhelmed with the complexity of the information, or by its emotional impact. Also, it’s human nature to require reminders.
“Chatbots address all three of these,” Black said.
The simplicity of the interaction with a chatbot is key. Black said Txtonomy is working with a large pharmaceutical company that spent a million dollars developing an app for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis and ended up with a total of five users.
“The reason (our approach) works is because it’s intuitive, as simple as texting a key word to a predetermined number,” he said. “The chatbot starts engaging you. Chat texting is a way we communicate. That’s all you need to know.”
Txtonomy prepares patients for surgery, for example, by helping them understand why they’re getting it done, what the benefits and risks are. The chatbot also helps them through their recovery.
Black declined to share revenue numbers, describing Txtonomy as an “early startup.”
“We have hundreds and hundreds of users, and we’re on a steep growth curve,” Black said. “As we discuss this with clinicians it’s a very easy sell. It’s not hard to convince a provider why they need chatbots in their practice.”