(BIDU) Launches AI-Powered Medical Conversation Bot

October 11, 2016 6:23 AM EDT

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Baidu, Inc. (Nasdaq: BIDU) launched Melody, an AI-powered conversational bot that helps doctors gather information and respond to patients about their medical conditions.

Baidu's Melody is designed to save time in online discussions between doctors and patients, and provide relevant, contextual information to doctors to assist with recommendations and treatment options.

Melody incorporates advanced deep learning and natural language processing (NLP) technologies developed by Baidu. It integrates with Baidu Doctor, an app that Baidu launched in China in 2015. The Baidu Doctor app allows patients to ask doctors direct questions, book appointments online and search for healthcare-related information.

Andrew Ng, chief scientist, Baidu, said: "Melody is designed to help both doctors and patients. By focusing on the medical assistant space, we've built a conversational bot that can give highly-customized and situation-appropriate responses to a patient's query."

"As Melody has more conversations, it will learn and keep getting better," added Dr. Ng. "This is just the start of a much larger AI-driven transformation of the healthcare industry."

The announcement was made at a Baidu Health and AI Workshop held today in Beijing. Melody is available immediately to participating doctors and their patients.

"The new AI-based medical assistant functionality in Baidu Doctor will increase doctor productivity and enable patients to get quicker answers to their health-related questions," said Zheng Li, general manager of Baidu's Medical Services Business Unit. "Melody uses deep learning to understand a patient's initial query and select additional questions to send to the patient. We expect to see AI used in many different ways throughout the medical industry as AI capabilities continue to improve."

Wei Fan, senior director in Baidu's Big Data Lab, commented: "With Melody, our goal is to provide patients with an online experience that is close to a human conversation. We believe this natural type of interaction will help patients feel more comfortable with their doctors and result in a more beneficial patient-doctor relationship."

Worldwide, doctor shortages are leading to healthcare systems plagued by bottlenecks. According to the World Health Organization, the world will face a shortfall of nearly 13 million health care professionals in the next two decades. In the U.S. alone, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025.

"With dire shortages of physicians around the world, the need is greater than ever for intelligent solutions that can help doctors facilitate accurate recommendations more quickly," Dr. Ng said. "Baidu aims to provide a powerful solution that will alleviate the burden on healthcare systems by helping to bridge the gap between patients and doctors."

How Melody Works When a patient opens the Baidu Doctor app to pose a question, Melody asks the patient additional context-relevant questions to clarify information such as the duration, severity and frequency of symptoms. It can also ask about additional symptoms possibly related to the condition but not initially mentioned by the patient. This provides the doctor with a more complete picture with which to make an informed decision (such as whether to recommend an immediate appointment). Melody can suggest possible treatment options directly to the doctor, who can choose to communicate those options to the patient or develop his or her own recommendations.

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