Chinese Company Releases a Medical Assistant Chatbot

While medical assistants are an indispensable part of Western medicine, this appears to not be the case in China. China’s largest search engine, Baidu, announced in October 2016 that it had produced an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot.

The company named its new creation Melody the Medical Assistant. Digital Trends interviewed Wei Fan, Baidu Big Data Lab’s Senior Director. Fan states that the new bot uses deep learning to understand the initial question from the patient. From there the bot selects additional questions to send to the patient.

The search engine company will integrate Melody into its Baidu Doctor app. This app allows patients to connect with their doctors to ask questions about the patient’s medical condition and to book appointments. At that point, the bot will step in to question patients on topics such as the severity, duration, and frequency of their symptoms. It then delivers this information to doctors who can then decide on the appropriate treatment for their patients.

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Baidu hopes that using the bot will help to make physicians more efficient and thus help to alleviate physician shortages around the world. The company insists that Melody will not replace physicians—that their relationships with patients are “sacred.”

The company drew from a wide variety of sources to train Melody. These included medical textbooks written by doctors to train other doctors and knowledge of medical texts from the web.

Baidu is one of many companies betting on the success of AI-powered apps:

  • Apple’s Siri
  • Microsoft’s Cortana
  • Amazon’s Alexa

Duolingo recently released an app that helps users of a new language practice it through natural conversation.

It remains to be seen whether Melody will succeed in its quest to improve the efficiency of physician-patient interactions.