Dinner, Chatbots and Small Business
News Publications, 24/11/2017
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A friend o mine, John, came over for dinner the other day. He is an osteopath: for those who don’t know, an osteopath is a highly trained health professional who uses manual therapy to fix anything going wrong in your body. Think a hybrid of chiropractor, massage therapist and physio and you are nearly there.

Over the spicy asparagus soup John said, ‘I’ve read a couple of those articles you published about chatbots (We need a chat-a–bot healthcare, and, Cashbots; Chatbots are making interactions with banks a genuine pleasure), and they are interesting but chatbots are not relevant for a small business like mine, are they?’

‘Well hang on,’ I said. ‘Do you employ a receptionist?

‘Yes, Suzie.’

‘Does she do filing, answer the phone, book people in?’

‘All of those.’

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I polished off the last of my soup and pushed the bowl away. ‘Well, I imagine most people ringing up will either be making general enquiries or looking to book an appointment,’ I said. ‘Chatbots are pretty much made for those tasks. Even a simple chatbot will be able to tell callers how much an appointment would be, how long it would last, what an osteopath does. Probably better than Suzie, because you will have programmed the chatbot with all the correct information. I’ve met Suzie and she is lovely but she does get things confused sometimes. And most practices run their booking systems off the internet nowadays, so the chatbot could be linked directly to that and take bookings and cancellations without a problem.’

‘I can see that might work,’ he said.

Over the vegetable lasagne, he pointed his fork at me and said. ‘But what about filing? It’s not a robot; a chatbot can’t handle paper filing.’

‘I happen to have been in a few therapy practices recently for my sore back,’ I said. ‘What I noticed was that the most efficient clinics have patient notes on a computer and stored in the iCloud. So they can have a paperless office. Again this is what chatbots are made for. They can look at the online patient diary, see the list for the day, pull the computer files for individual patients, in the order needed, send a client list to the computer in your room with each patient’s file attached. You add patient updates directly onto the computer, the chatbot files them. The chatbot can then automatically do things like send reminders of upcoming sessions to patients, let them know that their six monthly check-up is due, even send a birthday message.’

‘But my patients like to come in and chat to Suzie while they are waiting, how is a chatbot going to be able to do that?’

‘That’s what they do, chat. You can have a simulated human as a chatbot container. They will be able to talk about anything Suzie can. After all, they will have any non-confidential information from the patient’s notes to refer to and will be comfortable talking about everything from the weather to a patient’s favourite football team’s latest results. And believe it or not, people like talking to chatbots. Better than that, they know that anything they say won’t be repeated either inside or outside your clinic. The chatbot isn’t heading to the local bar after work, having a few beers and saying, “You should have heard what Mrs Jones said today…”’

Over the crème Brule, he said, ‘I have another osteopath and a psychotherapist working for me, it won’t be after those jobs will it?’