Northwell Health launches chatbot to boost use of colonoscopy

Dec. 4, 2019

Northwell Health has launched a personalized chatbot for patients with an appointment for a colonoscopy at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center or Southside Hospital. The text- or email-based program is designed to reduce the “no-show” rate for the procedure, which can protect people from colorectal cancer, the nation’s second-leading cancer killer among men and women combined.

Many people who make an appointment for colonoscopy cancel it or fail to show up, and the problem is particularly extreme in vulnerable or disadvantaged populations—studies show that as many as 40% of these patients don’t follow through with the procedure.

To encourage patients like these, Northwell’s Colonoscopy Health Chat uses artificial intelligence to address misunderstandings and concerns about the exam, delivering information in a responsive, conversational way over email or text. Different “chats” educate patients on the benefits of the test and what to expect before, during and after the procedure. The program also provides date and location reminders as a patient’s appointment draws near. The chats are available in English and Spanish.

“Colonoscopy is a powerful and potentially life-saving procedure, but many people are intimidated or think it will be much more unpleasant than it really is,” said Sabina Zak, Northwell Health’s vice president of community health and health services research. “The colonoscopy health chat platform is a flexible, scalable solution that improves health literacy and gives patients the information they need whenever they need it, so that they feel comfortable and motivated to get screened.”

The Colonoscopy Health Chat is based on Conversa Health’s automated conversation platform. Northwell is an investor in Conversa and uses the health chat technology in numerous ways, including helping to reduce hospital readmissions for high-risk patients after a heart attack, stroke or other serious condition, and preventing and managing side effects and other problems in patients getting radiation therapy for head and neck, breast or prostate cancer. Several new chat programs are planned for other patient populations in the coming year.

The colonoscopy health chat program will be offered to all patients who make an appointment for the test at LIJ Medical Center and Southside Hospital. Researchers will track the impact of the chat program on patient satisfaction, cancellations and no-shows, as well as successful completion of the exam, which requires thorough colon cleansing beforehand. (The chat includes information about why this bowel prep is necessary and how to accomplish it effectively and with a minimum of discomfort.)

“Health literacy is a strong determinant of wellness among vulnerable populations,” said Ms. Zak. “By helping patients understand their treatment and the reasons for it, we think the colonoscopy health chat will enable more patients to get the care they need and deserve.”

Northwell Health has the story.