China’s largest search engine, Baidu, has built a chatbot to assist doctors to answer patients’ questions and suggest treatment options.

The bot called Melody is part of the Baidu doctor app launched in China last year. The app allows people to contact local doctors, book appointments and get medical advice.

The chatbot is intended to help doctors diagnose quicker by getting additional information on symptoms from patients. When a user provides the bot with their symptoms, it gets more specific information by asking questions, like “When did the pain start?” or “Is the pain local or general?”.

The chatbot can help increase doctors’ productivity, allowing them to triage patients quicker. The World Health Organisation has predicted a global shortage of 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035. Countries in Southeast Asia are at particular risk. They “suffer the highest proportion of the global burden of disease (29%) with only 11% of the world’s supply of physicians and just about 1% of world health expenditures”, it has said.

“We’ve built a conversational bot that can give highly-customised and situation-appropriate responses to a patient’s query”, said Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief scientist. The bot is built on the company’s artificial intelligence technologies using deep learning and natural language processing.

The company will have access to China’s huge market with potentially millions of users, allowing the bot to improve itself. “As Melody has more conversations, it will also learn and keep getting better,” Ng said.

Baidu is looking to expand the healthbot in markets across the world. It is currently in conversation with healthcare services in Europe and America, according to the Verge.

Other tech companies in Asia have also entered the healthcare market. Recently, Indonesian tax app Go-Jek acquired a startup that delivers healthcare services to homes.

Image by Baidu