I'm a children's dentist. During my years in residency when I was on-call, I was shocked at the number dental emergencies we got paged for weren't, in fact, emergencies at all. The parents and child would wait in the emergency room for hours behind more urgent cases such as car accidents, gun shot wounds, and heart attacks... only to find out that the case was nothing to be worried about once the dentist was paged. This is a common problem- research shows 80% of dental emergencies can actually be treated in the dental clinic instead of the emergency room. This is a cost of nearly $2 billion to the health care system that can be avoided! This gave me an idea- what if there were a way for a quicker triage mechanism so that patient's don't go to the ER as their only option?
What it does
Our app, Dr. Bot does exactly that. If a patient feels they are having a dental emergency, they can text their dentist at an assigned Twilio number. We trained IBM Watson, an intuitive bot, to triage incoming messages using keyword searches.
If the bot detects keywords in the incoming message that define a true emergency, it sends an SMS to the dentist. At this point the dentist can request the patient for a picture to confirm the emergency and direct the patient either to the dental clinic (which occurs most of the time), or the ER (which occurs in rare instances).
If the bot deems the incoming message as non-urgent, it sends the message to the doctor's inbox. The doctor can read the message and respond at his or her leisure.
No matter what the scenario, the doctor always gets a message in the inbox as default so he or she can always confirm the bot did an accurate analysis of the urgency. This leaves the situation ultimately in the doctor's control.
The doctor, with the help of Dr. Bot, can prevent the majority of anxious patients going straight to the emergency room.
There are multiple benefits to this app:
- Cuts down wait time: Patients no longer have to wait in the ER for the dentist to be paged. When there is truly is an dental emergency, it is often time-sensitive. In the current system, by the time dentist is paged, it’s often too late for the dentist to do anything. Dr. Bot can help the patient find out immediately the urgency of the situation and get immediate instructions.
- Privacy for the dentist: As a resident, sometimes I would give my personal phone number to patients that I would like to follow up on, and immediately regret the decision as my personal phone gets bombarded with calls and texts. Dr. Bot allows the dentist to use a number that is not her personal cell phone and sends an SMS only after the initial triage proving it is a emergency.
- No more pagers or on-call phones: This app essentially can replace on-call devices that dentists usually carry. Docotrs often take turns covering call. Dr. Bot allows the doctors to be available to their patients rather than putting patients in contact with an unknown provider especially during the critical time of an emergency.
- Brings access to care: Imagine patients living hours away from the nearest doctor or emergency room having an emergency. Dr. Bot can put them in communication with their doctor immediately and potentially avoid hours of driving in the middle of the night only to end up in a waitlist in the triage room. Dr. Bot will be an asset to areas that have low access to health care.
How I built it
Challenges I ran into
When we presented this app to fellow dentists, the main concern they raised was how the doctor would be compensated for his time off-hours.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
Technology in healthcare is still in it’s initial stages. There’s so much potential in apps like Dr. Bot that can deliver healthcare more efficiently and easily. What we are proud of is Dr. Bot can bring access to health care shortage areas. A patient that lives hours from the nearest emergency room can still get as quick of a response from his dentist as can a patient that lives nearby.
What I learned
As a resident, I knew the triage system at our hospital was not streamlined but I had no idea the problem existed in a much larger scale- it was a national issue! This understanding alone changed the way we thought about what Dr. Bot should accomplish. The app evolved from a simple patient-doctor communication platform to a emergency care delivery application.
What's next for DocOnline
We plan on figuring out a way for patients to be able to have this app for free and for doctors to be compensated for their off-hours time. We will speak to insurances to see if there is a way doctors can be reimbursed for essentially being on-call for the patients 24/7.