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Healthcare chatbots: How the “Alexa” of medicine can help during COVID times: Dr. Sundeep Mishra

M3 India Newsdesk Oct 23, 2020

Dr. Sundeep Mishra discusses AI-powered chatbots that have recently emerged in the healthcare space in India, equipped to help with health-related issues on a more personal level.

To read other articles by Dr. Mishra, click here.

For our comprehensive coverage and latest updates on COVID-19 click here.

What is a health chatbot?

At the most basic level, a chatbot is a computer program/smart algorithm that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person. In other words instead of having a conversation with another person, the user talks with a (ro)bot that’s either powered by basic rules or machine learning. Health bots are the ones designed to help with health-related issues. Chatbot can be as simple as rudimentary program that answer a simple query with a single-line response, or as sophisticated as digital assistant that can (machine)learn and evolve to deliver increasing levels of personalisation as it gathers and processes information.

Driven by artificial intelligence (AI), automated rules, natural-language processing (NLP) 4), and machine learning (ML), chatbots process data to deliver responses to requests of all kinds.

There are two main types of chatbots:

  • Task-oriented (declarative) chatbots are single-purpose programs that focus on performing one function. They use automated rules and are enabled with NLP but use very little ML. Thus they are good to generate automated but conversational responses to user inquiries. They are good to handle FAQs, such as queries about opening times/locations of OPD or simple transactions that don’t involve a variety of variables. Since they do use NLP, end users can experience them in a conversational way although their capabilities are fairly basic. Currently, they are the most commonly used chatbots.
  • Data-driven and predictive (conversational) chatbots are often referred to as virtual assistants / digital assistants, and they are much more sophisticated, interactive, and personalized than task-oriented chatbots. They are chatbots with some artificial awareness (AI) and use not only c NLP but can leverage natural-language understanding (NLU), and learning as they go (ML). They are able to apply predictive intelligence and analytics to enable personalisation based on user profiles and past user behavior. Digital assistants can learn a user’s preferences over time, provide recommendations, and even anticipate needs. In addition to monitoring data and intent, they can even initiate conversations. Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are examples of non-health, data-driven, predictive chatbots.

While chatbots have become almost commonplace in e-commerce, they have recently started to emerge in the healthcare sector, as well. They could potentially provide many different services; user health-related information, help set up appointments, set up reminders for appointments/intake of drugs. Based on symptoms they may even predict probable diagnosis but more importantly sort out non-important symptoms from important ones asserting if a patient requires immediate attention or if they are going to be okay. Thus, while they can certainly not ape a human doctor they may provide convenience of quick response. What they can indeed do well:

  • Can schedule appointments
  • Can answer general user queries related to hospitals/doctors
  • Can be useful for sending reminders to patients
  • Help self-triage patient’s disease based upon symptoms they enter
  • Can be used for patient’s engagement

Healthcare chatbots available in India


Founded in 2017, mfine is an on-demand; digital primary healthcare platform which offers professional diagnostics and health check-up services that can be availed from the comfort of your home or office. It offers online consultation, medicine delivery, follow-ups, and patient record management services. Using mfine, users can instantly consult doctors online and get health checks at home - all through the tap or click of a button. In COVID-19 times, it has been incorporated with additional capabilities for recognising cough sounds from patients directly on the app allowing users to record a sound of their cough and the system would then classify the nature (dry, wet, lower or upper respiratory) and severity of the cough for the doctors to take the right course of action.


Wysa is an AI- powered stress, depression, and anxiety therapy chatbot. For additional support, it connects people with real human coaches. This mental and emotional wellness app responds to the emotions a user expresses and uses evidence-based cognitive-behavior techniques, meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing and micro-actions to help build mental resilience skills. It has a cute penguin for a chatbot, who pops up from time to time on the mobile screen to inquire about how one is feeling at a particular moment. After the COVID pandemic alert, in the light of booming dependency of people on mental health apps, Wysa has made its AI chat features and all its tools free.


Mediktor is an AI-assisted online symptom-assessment technology, powered by IBM® Cloud™, which integrates seamlessly into healthcare payers’ and providers’ online services and workflows. with great NLP capabilities. It is the world's most advanced and accurate symptom checker for pre-diagnosis, triage and decision-making support.


ZINI India's First Medical AI, is really a Personal Healthcare Companion released in the form of a Chatbot included Health App. It creates an emergency medical profile for the patient for urgent medical requirement. Available on google-play it can help figure out what's wrong and what to do in case of a medical emergency.


It is a free platform that provides personalised information, guidance, and healthcare support. With an in-built symptom checker, vast medical database, health plans, and journals, it is an application for digital healthcare support. It offers:

  • actionable health information based on highly accurate sources & lets user make best choices
  • is basically symptom checker powered by AI, available on iOS, Android, Facebook Messenger as well as a browser version
  • excellent source of online medical service providers; pharmacies, test centers, HCPs office, mental health apps


The app has an elaborate sign-in process and gives the freedom to choose the kind of help; automated response or speak to certified therapists, even consultation for free. If required one can choose for the paid services and schedule multiple appointments with the therapist of their choice along with a video call option.


This app allows people to seek help even on anonymous grounds. It provides suggestions on how to deal with COVID pandemic and utilize the time while confined indoors and boost self-growth.


This Delhi-based startup app provides the freedom to people to express their emotions and views anonymously on various categories such as politics, current affairs, confession, entertainment, daily drag, relationship, and grievance. Thus, it can be useful to tackle COVID-related mental health issues like work from home, dealing with new work life and a change in lifestyle. This provides a unique platform when compared to biased content, peer pressure forced beliefs and merciless trolling rife on social networking sites and apps.


This online consultation app provides mental health-oriented assessment tests after signing up. Based on this, it pairs an user with the therapist in an individual session plan. Furthermore, it has a personalised FEED with real-life stories, healing confessions, and beneficial content. It handles >1.5 million unique visitors each month.



Disclaimer- The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of M3 India.

The writer, Dr. Sundeep Mishra is a Professor of Cardiology.

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