HealthTap creates chat bot for Facebook's Messenger app

By Aditi Pai
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Earlier this week, Facebook announced a new platform for its Messenger app that allows companies to create chat bots that communicate with users. Already about three dozen companies have launched Facebook bots, including CNN, weather tracking company Poncho, and 1-800-Flowers. Among the initial batch, one health-focused company, HealthTap, launched a chat bot.

More than 900 million people use Facebook’s Messenger app, according to HealthTap. So the novelty of being the first and only health bot on the platform, for now, could prove to be a good marketing move for the company, if nothing else.

HealthTap’s bot allows users to type a question into Messenger any time and receive free responses from doctors. Users are also able to see responses from doctors to questions that are similar to their own.

“We’re excited to be the first healthcare company to deliver fast, high-quality information from compassionate doctors directly to people all over the world through the Messenger Platform,” HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman said in a statement. “…The new Messenger Platform enables us to extend the ability of our dedicated and generous doctors to help people everywhere feel good.”

HealthTap offers consumers a variety of health tech tools, services, and online health educational content, but these days it gives top billing to its Live Virtual Consults visits. The company offers its paying consumer members unlimited medical advice from doctors through chat, video visits, or audio only visits via mobile app or web browser. The company’s network includes more than 100,000 doctors that span 141 specialties.

Last month, HealthTap quietly acquired Docphin, a startup that makes it easier for physicians to find and read medical research, for an undisclosed sum. Docphin was a member of Rock Health's second accelerator class back in 2012 as well as StartUp Health's second class of startups later that same year. Interestingly, Docphin's former CEO and Co-Founder Sachin Nanavati is part of the health team at Facebook, according to his LinkedIn profile. He made the move in February.

Facebook has made a couple small moves in the healthcare space in the past few years.

In February 2015, Facebook partnered with several mental health organizations including Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and Save.org to offer its users more tools to help those who may be considering committing suicide.

A year prior, in April 2015, Facebook acquired Finland-based fitness app maker Protogeo for an undisclosed sum. The company’s high-profile app, called Moves, passively tracks a user’s daily activity using the phone’s built-in accelerometer in order to provide all-day tracking without killing the phone’s battery.

And a month prior to that, Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for more than $2 billion. During a call with reporters and analysts following the announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that while Oculus will continue to focus on gaming in the short term, the deal was more about placing a bet on the next big computing platform shift. He mentioned telemedicine as one opportunity for Oculus in the future.