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Navigating Digital Interaction in Pharma: Why Conversational AI Is the Best Option for Customer Engagement

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By: Dr. Duré Hussain, VP, Medical Strategy and Commercial Consulting

Brand.com has become stagnant – most pharmaceutical websites are overly complicated, requiring users to search and scroll for information, and lack any true way for customers to connect. However, as healthcare marketers explore opportunities for direct customer engagement on brand.com, many are wondering the best approach — chatbots, generative AI or conversational AI. While each of these technologies offers unique capabilities, there is only one right choice for the highly regulated environment of the pharmaceutical industry.  

Here’s why conversational AI is the safest and most effective option for healthcare customer digital interaction. 

Chatbots: A Frustrating and Insufficient User Experience with Limited Data

Chatbots, while useful for basic inquiries, fall short in effectively communicating with patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) due to their inherent limitations. For instance, chatbots’ reliance on button-driven conversations and predetermined question-and-answer formats restricts the depth and flexibility of dialogue, which is crucial in the nuanced field of healthcare. 

These constraints mean that chatbots can only address a narrow range of topics and are not adaptive to the complex and varied concerns that patients and HCPs may have. Consequently, this lack of adaptability can lead to a frustrating experience, as users are often left with unresolved issues or questions that go beyond the chatbot's programmed capabilities. What happens next? Users check out, abandoning the website altogether and potentially giving up on their research. If they do want to move forward, and in the case of an HCP, escalate to a pharmaceutical rep, it’s a potential waste of resources as human-to-human interaction should be based on more high-value opportunities instead of basic inquiries.

In an industry where personalized attention and accurate information are key, the inability of chatbots to provide tailored and comprehensive responses renders them insufficient for meaningful patient and HCP engagement. Additionally, since the question and answer functionality chatbots provide is limited to a button-driven exchange, brands are unable to learn from valuable first-person customer interactions. This lack of insight closes the door to marketing intelligence that, if a conversation were left more open-ended, could be used to adjust campaigns and proactively address customer needs. 

Generative AI: Too Risky for Pharmaceutical Brands 

Though generative AI (like OpenAI's ChatGPT) can engage in human-like conversations and understand natural language, these systems generate real-time responses that are not validated against MLR standards. These unpredictable responses carry the risk of "hallucination" – disseminating plausible but incorrect or unapproved information. In the pharma industry, where accuracy is a top priority, and misinformation can have serious consequences, this unpredictability is a massive liability. 

While generative AI is an impressive technology, when it comes to direct engagement with HCPs and patients, the risks outweigh the benefits. For instance, although ChatGPT is in no way accredited to give medical advice, it will answer any user query about health. According to researchers at Long Island University, ChatGPT produced responses that were false or incomplete for 29 out of 39 drug-related questions. 

Conversational AI: Striking the Perfect Balance for Customer Engagement 

Conversational AI represents the perfect balance between the scripted safety of chatbots and the dynamism of generative AI. It is engineered to deliver human-like interactions and understand natural language, much like generative AI. Swoop’s medically-trained conversational AI has been engineered to gauge user intent to health based questions, which is why it can respond to an HCP or patient query seamlessly, regardless of slang or advanced medical language. Notably, conversational AI differentiates itself from fully generative AI by being specifically designed to respond with MLR-approved information, ensuring compliance and accuracy at all times.

As conversational AI systems are adept at understanding the intent behind users' queries providing legitimate, brand-specific responses in the exact moment of need, this capability allows for an engaging customer experience without the risk of delivering non-validated information. Patients and HCPs can interact confidently, receiving reliable support that adheres to the high standards expected in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Brand marketers can then enjoy further insights by using the information gathered from a real-time interaction to inform their marketing and communications strategy. Not only is conversational AI an opportunity to take advantage of an invaluable first-party data source, it’s a chance to understand the customers better and ensure their needs are being addressed with actual user sentiments reflected in future messaging. Brands that get this right will create content that resonates deeper, drives conversion and increases Rx lift. 

The Right Choice: Opting for Conversational AI in Pharma

For pharmaceutical and life science companies, the stakes are high when it comes to connecting with today’s customers, including an increasingly digital native HCP population. Not only do users expect more from websites, including helpful, on-demand support, the information provided must also be 100% compliant and accurate. While chatbots may offer safety, they lack the sophistication required for meaningful interactions and are likely to repel customers. Generative AI, despite its advances, carries inherent risks that are incompatible with the zero-tolerance policy for misinformation in pharma.

Conversational AI emerges as the preferred choice, blending the reliability of bots with the intelligent interaction of generative AI, all the while upholding the rigorous standards of MLR and compliance. By investing in conversational AI, pharma companies can enhance customer engagement, provide exceptional service, and maintain the integrity and safety essential to the industry.

About the Author

Dr. Duré Hussain

VP, Medical Strategy and Commercial Consulting

  Dure Hussain-1


With a background in clinical practice, Dr. Hussain brings a unique perspective to the company by intersecting technology, healthcare, and access. She is passionate about breaking down global infrastructure barriers and promoting health equity. Dr. Hussain's journey with Swoop began after meeting a fellow physician who explained the unlimited potential of scaling medical conversations through advanced AI; this resonated especially after observing telecommunications were far more accessible than healthcare first-hand in her work overseas. In her role as a commercial consultant, Dr. Hussain ensures that current customers can reach out during escalations and provides training and support for data questions. She also communicates with customers during sales calls, addressing concerns from the Medical Legal Review (MLR) process to the quality and effectiveness of the conversation.


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