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‘It’s a shame that healthcare institutions aren’t yet fully embracing chatbots’ 

How can you make patient communication better, simpler, more digital and cheaper? Arjen Huizinga feels this is a question too few healthcare institutions ask themselves. He has used his Rotterdam company PEX life to prove it’s possible at the Amsterdam UMC. Now he’s hoping to convince Rotterdam healthcare institutions of the same thing too.

It’s obviously a little bit like the “we at Toilet Duck recommend Toilet Duck” principle when Arjen Huizinga, PEX life’s Director, says: ‘It’s such a shame that healthcare institutions aren’t yet fully embracing chatbots.’ His company supplies chatbots (automated discussion partners) which have been specifically developed for the healthcare sector. But his facial expression shows he genuinely means it. He also adds: ‘If all I’d been after was to develop and grow as quickly as possible, I would, without a shadow of a doubt, have focussed on a different sector. You have to be patient in healthcare. Patience is something I most definitely have, as working within this sector obviously means you’re working with people and their quality of life.’


Huizinga founded PEX life in 2014, following a successful career at companies including Robeco and the Dutch Railways. The company, located at the Rotterdam Parklaan, started out as a CX Company subsidiary. This company specialises in customer communication and supplies, to name but one, the DigitalCX platform. ‘Chatbot communication has already proven its worth in many sectors,’ Arjen tells us. ‘All major online stores, telephone providers and other customer-oriented organisations are now using it. We firmly believe it can work for the healthcare sector too. But in a slightly different way. The technology is the same, irrespective of whether you’re using a chatbot on or a hospital. But whether you’re chatting with a customer who wants to return his order, or with a patient who has a tense operation ahead of him, will naturally make a huge amount of difference.’

Portretfoto Arjen Huizinga


Arjen explains what PEX life does for Amsterdam UMC, in order to outline the functioning and benefits of automated patient communication. PEX life created a conversational website for this hospital, with a digital assistant immediately answering visitors’ questions. The visitor clicks on one of the six buttons on the homepage, or types the question in the appropriate field. He or she will then immediately receive an answer via the chatbot technology. Visitors are also offered additional information via links to pages beyond the homepage or a video. The digital assistant will therefore be taking the visitor by the hand, to guide him or her through the various Amsterdam UMC websites.


 Arjen: ‘After more than a year and a half of analysing all site visits and submitted questions, it turned out we could answer more than 80 percent of all questions with six blocks. We expanded the digital assistant’s content with the seventh ‘ask your question’ block, in order to be able to adequately answer as many questions as possible. This will ultimately allow you to reduce 10 to 40 percent of the contact moments. You can save on personnel and therefore on costs too. A telephone call in a hospital will quickly cost around 10 to 15 euros. You will also have to send fewer letters. The chatbot technology costs can be recouped within a single year.”


The secret to a good chatbot? Content. ‘The digital assistant must have answers to as many questions as possible. These questions can be about practical matters like parking, about routes inside the hospital or questions like: ‘Can I wear jewellery during my surgery?’ But it can also involve complex medical information. It’s therefore essential for professionals from all departments to provide good substantive input. We often leave the content to the healthcare institution itself, after which we give it our own little twist based on our patient communication experience and expertise. This then turns it into understandable language and allows for so-called conversational dialogues to be created. You should also always offer an action perspective at the end of a conversation. This could be a telephone number, the offering of a brochure or transferring the patient to an employee. You can relieve the patient from a great deal of stress in cases like these, plus it will hugely improve the overall experience.”


Another important aspect, according to Arjen: the fact that patients can stay in the same communication channel. ‘We have more than 15,000 interactions per month at Amsterdam UMC, with a high degree of satisfaction. The fact that people can stay in the chatbot is particularly highly valued. The more effectively the knowledge database at the back is filled with content, the easier it becomes. And if you do have to change channels, we need to make sure this is done as smoothly and easily as possible. Making sure the patient doesn’t have to tell his or her entire story again. Our system also carefully considers which contact moments a patient would prefer one-on-one and what information could be offered via a link on the website. Things will run smoothly if you get that right. The Amsterdam UMC only needs a few hours a month to maintain the chatbot.’


The key question: why don’t more hospitals and other healthcare institutions work with chatbots? Only one hospital in Utrecht has a chatbot in addition to the Amsterdam UMC. Arjen: ‘Healthcare and digitisation are by no means fully aligned yet. There is generally still a great deal of focus on one-on-one contact. And hospitals still often see themselves as a building which people have to visit. Corona may well have brought about a small change in that respect and people now generally accept that digitisation can also offer a multitude of opportunities. Plus the various different departments within hospitals often act as islands, with their own unique communication channels. This makes it more difficult for a management team to see the total picture and the benefits.’


Arjen hopes to use PEX life to conquer more hospitals and other healthcare institutions in the Netherlands during the forthcoming years. Especially in his home town of Rotterdam, which he feels is “a city with great energy, which PEX life perfectly fits in with”. He wants to realise and set up some fantastic projects here. He has already spoken to Erasmus MC and Franciscus Gasthuis & Vlietland, to name but a few. ‘But the timing has to be right too. It goes without saying it’s a huge step to partly start digitising your communication. Hospitals certainly have plenty of other challenges. For now I’ll simply continue to mention the benefits as often as possible, including via the LSH010 network breakfast sessions. We still have a world to conquer.’

Portretfoto Arjen Huizinga

Arjen founded MiGuide from PEX Life, Expertdoc and TNO. MiGuide helps people with type II Diabetes. Would you like to find out more about chatbot technology for healthcare or the Amsterdam UMC case? Visit the PEX life website and connect with Arjen Huizinga on LinkedIn.

Date: 1 March 2022