Ready to chat? Philips taps Orbita to add virtual assistants to telehealth products

Philips building
Philips teamed up with Orbita to upgrade its remote healthcare applications with the addition of AI-powered virtual assistants. (Philips)

Philips has spent the better part of the last year racking up partnerships and acquisitions focused on improving remote healthcare options and the patient experience—and it’s showing no sign of slowing down.

Its latest move? Enlisting Orbita, which develops HIPAA-compliant conversational AI products, to create virtual assistants for its telehealth applications.

Orbita’s virtual assistants can be embedded into smart speakers, chat apps and text and phone call services. Through the partnership, AI chatbots co-developed by the companies will be added to Philips’ consumer health and patient support applications, which include the Sonicare teledentistry platform and both in-hospital and ambulatory telehealth programs.

Adding chatbots to remote care services isn’t a completely novel idea. Microsoft, for example, made its own conversational AI-powered Healthcare Bot widely available in early 2019, and further expanded its capabilities last spring for use in triaging potential COVID-19 cases.

RELATED: Philips to buy medical device integrator Capsule Technologies for $635M

Philips tapped Orbita for the job because it shares the Dutch tech behemoth’s focus on rapid innovation in remote care, while still maintaining “the human touch needed in healthcare,” Philips CTO Henk van Houten said. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the company is already familiar with Orbita’s work, after contributing to the startup’s $9 million series A funding round through its Health Technology Venture Fund in May 2020.

“With the acceleration in the adoption of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, AI-enabled voice services, virtual assistants and chatbots are already playing an enabling role in driving 24/7 access to healthcare, enhancing patient engagement, and improving clinical efficiency,” van Houten added.

So far this year, Philips has been in a collaborative mood: In the past few months, the company also teamed up with Merck KGaA to build AI and telehealth technologies to improve fertility treatments, and with the Walt Disney Company to produce custom animations that aim to reduce children's anxiety around receiving an MRI scan.