Aurora Health Care to roll out AI-powered ‘digital concierge’


The chatbot, which appears in a web browser, understands natural language and adapts to a user’s answers.

Aurora Health Care Inc.


Innovation: Symptom checker chatbot

Founded: 1984

The chatbot, which appears in a web browser, understands natural language and adapts to a user’s answers.

If you are starting to come down with a sore throat but don’t want to leave the comfort of your own home, you could embark on a Google search of your symptoms, make your best guess at a diagnosis and assess possible remedies based on your internet research.

Or you could have a bot – backed by a library of clinically-approved information – do the work for you.

That’s a new option that could soon be available to Aurora Health Care patients as the Milwaukee-based health care system works to roll out a new “digital concierge” chatbot powered by artificial intelligence.

Aurora’s digital division has teamed up with developers from Microsoft Corp.’s health care innovation arm, the Microsoft Healthcare NExT initiative, on developing the tool that they say will simplify the process of determining whether and where a patient needs to get help.

The bot, which appears in a web browser, understands natural language. The user answers a set of questions about herself and her symptoms, and the bot adapts to her answers, then provides possible causes and suggests a treatment plan, including whether the patient should go to urgent care, see his primary care doctor or stay at home and rest. If the patient should receive medical care, the user can click through to reserve his or her place in line at an Aurora urgent care location.

The bot, which is programmed as an extensive set of decision trees, knows about 5,000 health conditions and will learn more as it’s used by more people.

With a growing number of options for how patients receive care, the digital concierge provides clarity.

“There’s Video Visit, Quick Care, the emergency room – this helps navigate that complexity,” said Jeremy Ampe, director of digital experience design for Aurora.

The chatbot isn’t meant to be a substitute for a doctor, said Jamey Shiels, vice president of digital experience for Aurora. Rather, it’s aimed at helping patients find the most appropriate care.

“It’s not intended to give you clinical advice,” Shiels said. “It’s intended to help you make an informed decision around what clinical setting to go to.”

The bot is currently in a beta test phase, with plans to roll it out on the Aurora website later this year.

The digital team is also exploring the possibility of using voice recognition.

“It’s something we want to study,” Shiels said. “People are comfortable with chatbots. They’re interacting with them in many more environments from a customer service standpoint. We want to see if that level of comfort with chatbots translates to a chatbot in health care.”

Ampe said it’s a natural next step for patients who already turn to the internet for their health-related inquiries.

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin also recently launched a similar digital health tool on its website aimed at simplifying patients’ online search for health information.

The symptom checker, called Buoy, asks users about their symptoms and responds to the answers in real time with a personalized analysis and recommendation of how to best treat the symptoms.

Froedtert & MCW’s innovation accelerator, Inception Health, researched a host of tools and chose Buoy for its clinical evidence and personal, intuitive user experience, the health system said.

A team of doctors and computer scientists worked with Harvard’s Innovation Laboratory to develop the app by mapping out symptoms and how people describe them in searches to create the tool.

“Buoy’s algorithm really listens and then recalculates your inputs in real time,” said Andrew Le, co-founder and chief executive officer of Buoy Health. “This helps serve up questions that will more quickly and more accurately identify what’s wrong, so you can get on the right path to getting better.”

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