Chatbots, defined as software applications that conduct online chats via text or text-to-speech, working for reputable organizations can ease the burden on medical providers and offer guidance to those with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) symptoms, according to research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Researchers conducted an online study with 371 participants who viewed a COVID-19 screening session between a hotline agent, chatbot or human, and a user with mild or severe symptoms, according to a press release. The objective of the study was to determine whether chatbots were seen as being persuasive, providing satisfying information that likely would be followed.

The results showed a slight negative bias against chatbots’ ability; however, when the perceived ability is the same, participants reported that they viewed chatbots more positively than human agents, which is good for health care organizations struggling to meet user demand for screening services, according to a press release.

"The primary factor driving user response to screening hotlines, human or chatbot, is perceptions of the agent's ability," said study author Alan Dennis in a press release. "User reactions to COVID-19 screening chatbots from reputable providers. When ability is the same, users view chatbots no differently or more positively than human agents."

Chatbots have been a preferred technology used to speed up how people interact with researchers and find medical information online before the pandemic, according to the press release.

"This positive response may be because users feel more comfortable disclosing information to a chatbot, especially socially undesirable information, because a chatbot makes no judgment," the study authors said in a press release. "The CDC, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other health organizations caution that the COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviors against people of certain ethnic backgrounds, as well as those perceived to have been in contact with the virus.”

Chatbots can ease medical providers’ burden, offer trusted guidance to those with COVID-19 symptoms. Indiana University. Published July 9, 2020. Accessed July 15, 2020.