Your next doctor visit might involve a chatbot.
Your.MD is a new option that joins a few other existing chatbots, like HealthJoy, that help you diagnose common ailments. I tested out Your.MD with an actual health issue (not serious) to see if it could help and was impressed with how it guided me through some questions.
To start, you initiate a conversation in Facebook Messenger. The bot also has a dedicated app for iOS and Android, and it works in Telegram, Slack, and Kik. The first step is to describe the condition. In my case, I had a rash from a mosquito bite on my leg, so I typed rash on my leg. Interacting with the bot is simple enough: It guided me through several options and made some suggestions, although it never quite identified the bite. (In all fairness, a mosquito bite is often not considered a health issue as much as an annoyance.)
What’s most helpful about this is that you are talking to a bot. There’s an illusion of privacy when you talk to a bot, although there’s no reason to think the conversation is encrypted (Facebook is still working on that) or that someone couldn’t easily see your chat if you left it up on your computer (Facebook Messenger also doesn’t support disappearing messages, although, once again,the company is working on it.)
Still, the illusion of privacy might help people open up, especially when it comes to an illness that is considered taboo, or just embarrassing. And the guided questions area a real plus. Often, we don’t know what to type into a search bar. We can say “rash on my leg,” but we don’t know enough about medical conditions to even get started.
Your.MD uses a Bayesian Network theory of deduction. It determines what the problem might be by eliminating possibilities. (Note to self, I do not have an arthritic condition that causes rashes on my legs) A.I. has not quite progressed to the point that it can take data from your health records, correlate it with information about your family history from Ancestry.com, use DNA samples from 23andMe.com, and then kick back a quick note about your high blood pressure. I wish it could, because one of my concerns with bots like this is that people could become unnecessarily concerned about an ailment they don’t have.
For now, I’m happy to find out the rash is not that serious — and it has already faded.