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This AI Friend Wants to Help You Quit Smoking

MARCH 8, 2018 –

An early healthcare use of bots and artificial intelligence, for the win.

New research has demonstrated that robots, like bots powered with artificial intelligence, are surprisingly effective at influencing people’s behavior. And, because they aren’t your best friend or your mom, their reminders are received more as helpful than they are as nagging.

According to an article written by Brett DiNovi, an applied behavior analyst, today’s robots can “identify and respond to human emotions by comforting a person, laughing at a joke, and rapidly learning based on past experiences.” As such, DiNovi and other experts in behavior believe that robots will have a major impact on behavior, capable of reinforcing positive behavior through things like “robust praise with bells and whistles to train the learner’s responses.”

And while the idea of using robots to help us become better humans might seem strange, it makes sense that it would be effective. While humans get tired and are influenced by their own personality and experiences, robots are able to work 24/7 and without being worse for the wear.

In the health care world, AI chatbots are able to boost patient adherence, success, and satisfaction, all while simultaneously reducing program costs.

For patients who are on the journey to quit smoking, the type of support that can be offered by chatbots is proving invaluable.

By using dynamic responses, reminders, and check-ins through SMS, these bots are giving smoking cessation patients the nudges and accountability they need to quit.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. According to the CDC, that amounts to nearly 500,000 people dying each year in this country alone. Of that half a million death toll statistic, over 40,000 of those individuals die from secondhand smoke. And while the reality of smoking has been made clear for decades, progress in actually helping people to quit smoking is slow. In fact, 36.5 million people in this country still smoke.

But, changes are being made.

Years ago, long before the general public had any idea what a chatbot was, a pioneering healthcare system backed by its fifteen hospitals and a robust team of 20,000 individuals was implementing AI technology to help its patients finally kick the addiction.

Realizing the relatively low cost and fast-to-concept world of programmed chatbots, this company created one of the nation’s first AI-powered smoking cessation program. Capable of scaling quickly, they soon noticed increased numbers of success, and all without technology resources or a big budget.

As such, this healthcare pioneer has proven one important thing: low-cost chatbot piloting pays off.

Want more proof?

As an early pioneer in the world of behavioral AI, a retired physiologist noticed the effectiveness of chat bots in helping her patients curb their deadly addiction. By creating a first generation chatbot that created outbound reminders, this pioneer dramatically increased patient adherence and, therefore, played a major role in helping individuals quit smoking.

Unlike phone calls from health care professionals (or friends and family), patients actually respond to automated messages, offering answers to questions and providing feedback that was typically withheld in one-on-one interactions. Armed with this knowledge, new innovators in the health care and medical world are finding ways to continue advancing chatbots and other forms of AI.

It seems, then, that the logical progression of these advancements would be connecting bots to patient data, like the electronic healthcare records system (EHR), in order to give AI more information and more powerful ways to connect with a variety of patients, expanding well beyond just individuals who are wanting to stop smoking.

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