COVID-19 descended upon 2020 in a way no one expected. What was once a problem in other countries quickly became a worldwide problem in a matter of weeks. Businesses were shuttered, schools were closed and it left people everywhere wondering how things could change so rapidly.
Canada’s unemployment rate hit 13% in April, with 2 million additional jobs being lost (on top of the 1 million lost in March).
With so many businesses forced to rely on digital communication, chatbots have emerged front and centre as a tool to help companies, agencies and governments with their COVID-19 response.
Using Chatbots To Stop the Spread of Misinformation
The internet is great – until it isn’t. And with so much anxiety and uncertainty, it can be difficult to know what to believe, which sources are credible, and where to get your daily fix of news.
A variety of organizations and agencies launched different online platforms in order to deal with the influx of public concern and the rapidly growing problem of misinformation.
Chatbots were one such online platform, used to spread correct information. An added bonus with chatbots, in comparison to online information sources or newspapers: they can understand and respond in natural language. This even improves the quality of access for people who struggle with the internet or have a difficult time reading.
Chatbots can be available to answer pressing questions at any time of day with reliable, up-to-date information. They also have the ability to speak a variety of languages, making it easier to reach diverse populations worldwide.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a Facebook Messenger chatbot version of its WHO Health Alert platform. By doing so, the WHO offered instant and accurate information about COVID-19– via Facebook’s global reach.
Available in many languages, the service can be accessed through the WHO’s Facebook page. As such, the WHO has the potential to reach 4.2 billion people – that is more than half of the world’s population getting real-time accurate data about the virus. This chatbot helps people protect themselves and their families, as well as preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The City of Toronto
In May of 2020 the city of Toronto launched an official COVID-19 chatbot in order to help answer the variety of questions they were fielding related to the virus and its various impacts.
The chatbot uses AI (artificial intelligence) to answer questions with standard answers using content that is already available on its main website. But because of the AI, as the chatbot gets used more and more, it will be able to better communicate, learn from its conversations, and provide better answers and service for residents of Toronto.
For example, you could ask the chatbot:
- Is the outdoor swimming pool by my home open?
- Where can I get tested for COVID-19?
- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The chatbot will then get better with each use and will help to spread valid information.
More Ways That Chatbots Can Be Used in COVID-19 Response Planning
Pandemics have specific characteristics that make them well-tailored to chatbot assistance. Pandemics differ from other natural disasters in the following ways:
- Individual actions can worsen the outcome, which means that one person has the ability to infect others easily.
- It is easy for the virus to spread from asymptomatic people, without anyone knowing it. The fear of infecting others can also make people hide their symptoms.
- The physical gatherings that are essential to our core as humans (religious events, family gatherings and school trips) are the events that people are supposed to be avoiding. However, there are great concerns about future mental health impacts.
Chatbots can be used in the following ways to help plan for current and future health crises.
- Symptom monitoring: There are chatbots that make it easy for people to assess themselves and get immediate results so they can take precautions. Chatbots can help alleviate stress on the healthcare system and help to calm fears about catching the virus. Chatbots are well suited to screen for symptoms during a pandemic because people may avoid seeking medical care or treatment either because of fear of the stigma or because of fear of being exposed to the virus. Research has shown that people are more willing to discuss personal medical information with a chatbot than a human, which could result in more accurate possible diagnoses. An example of a symptom monitoring chatbot is COBO, which is a Facebook Messenger bot that asks questions to determine one’s risk of catching the virus.
- Behaviour change support: In order to affect behaviour, information must be available. Chatbots present the ability to connect knowledge with action by providing step-by-step instructions, repetition, and presenting reliable information. Chatbots can offload this time-consuming work from healthcare workers. Penn Medicine has developed a chatbot that is intended to help assess symptoms, help patients find answers to questions surrounding COVID-19, as well as route them to the appropriate care.
- Mental health support: Due in part to the imminent dangers of COVID-19, physical needs are first and foremost. Unfortunately, this does not allow for mental health concerns to be addressed. People who are used to receiving in-person support for mental health issues were unable to keep up with those appointments. The pandemic has also caused great stress for many people, who were unable to get support. In the short-term, chatbots can help to provide support to those who are struggling with the psychological side effects of isolation. Preliminary studies suggest that chatbots may help to reduce mental health symptoms, although more research is needed. If chatbots are purposefully designed and used, they may lessen the long-term impacts of pandemic-related isolation, depression and trauma.
RELATED: Case Study FAQ Vaccine Chatbot
How Chatbots Can Be Used to Help Your Employees With COVID-19 Response
We have established that chatbots are effective when used by public and government agencies, but how can your company employ the use of chatbots during this unpredictable pandemic?
- Virtual healthcare assistants: Many private companies and businesses put strict health measures in place after the lockdown began to lift. From social distancing methods to health questionnaires, finding people to stand at the front doors to administer these costs money. Consider using a chatbot to provide reliable information and clear guidelines, recommend protection measures, check and monitor symptoms, and advise individuals whether they need hospital screening or self-isolation at their home.
- Facial recognition and fever detector chatbots: Cameras with AI-based multisensory technology have been deployed in a variety of public spaces (airports, hospitals, nursing homes). This technology automatically detects individuals with fever, tracks their movements, recognizes their faces, and can detect if the person is wearing a face mask.
Are you wondering how a chatbot can help you through the COVID-19 global pandemic? Get in touch with one of our team members today.