Q&A with Patty Riskind of Orbita: Combining automation with empathy


AVIA Marketplace is the leading online resource for accurate, unbiased information about digital health companies and solutions. Our goal: To empower hospitals and health systems with the information they need to match with vendors who can meet their unique needs. We asked the top companies in the patient education space about their solutions and what they think the future of digital health looks like. No sponsored content or advertorials—just transparency and insights that decision-makers can use. 

Orbita’s conversational AI platform powers voice, text, email and chatbot-based digital care solutions to support patients during their care journeys, reduce care team workload, and close gaps in care. Providers can deploy HIPAA-compliant virtual assistants and conversational AI to guide patients through the care journey, from a digital front door to continuous follow-up with clinical escalations. Founded in 2015, the Boston-based Orbita attracted Philips Health Technology Ventures and HealthX Ventures as lead investors in its series A round.

Chief Executive Officer Patty Riskind is a dynamic healthcare tech leader whose previous leadership experience includes serving as Head of Global Healthcare for Qualtrics and as Press Ganey’s Chief Client Experience Officer. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Q: Can you tell us about your company and the challenges you are solving within the patient education space?

A: Orbita embraces an all-encompassing view of patient education–we believe that education should be viewed as the objective and outcome of virtually any patient interaction. It includes not only education about diseases, conditions, and treatment, but also guidance for patients to help them effectively engage with the health system and clinical staff before, during and after encounters.

For example, patients are often at a loss about how to find the best provider and level of care. Health system websites are seldom configured to deliver simple guidance and easy-to-find education. Too often, consumers and patients don’t know where to start–the search bar? The chatbot? The “Find a Doctor” button?. And though patients may be able to find and use these functions, they may not know how to phrase their questions in clinical terms. As a result, website visitors rarely get the specific information and direction they seek, and often abandon the search out of frustration or end up having to call to find what they need.

Orbita has introduced Blaze, a solution that uses conversational AI to transform limited search tools into a genuinely intelligent virtual assistant. When patients–or prospective patients–interact with Blaze, they engage in a web-based dialog with a virtual assistant that asks questions to help narrow and define their search. For example, Blaze probes for details about symptoms, so the individual can be directed to the right care setting–urgent care versus the ED, for example, or a next-day primary care visit if that is appropriate. Blaze translates how a layperson might ask about a certain type of doctor (e.g., a foot doctor) and knows that the patient means a podiatrist. Blaze applies 20 query classifications, increasing the accuracy and likelihood of matching the patient with the right information.

Not only does Blaze improve the patient experience when they engage with a health system’s website, it also increases conversion because it integrates with a health system’s scheduling system, further reducing the need for phone calls.

Intelligent digital tools can meet a wide range of patient needs in a consumer-friendly manner, which more and more patients expect when they seek care. Orbita offers automated intake and procedure prep instructions, so patients know what to expect from visits and treatments and are better equipped to manage their conditions. In addition, Orbita virtual assistants can support follow-up care and remote patient monitoring in order to keep patients engaged and informed while gathering key information to improve outcomes.

Q: How does your company differentiate from other patient education solution vendors?

A: Orbita offers the industry a robust platform to support automated interactions across the patient’s care journey. Pre-built solutions, which range from Patient Self-scheduling toContinuous Care Follow Up, allow Orbita clients to leverage intelligent automation that reduces staff time and improves patient engagement. Orbita’s platform is healthcare-specific, configured to work and communicate the way that healthcare does. It is HIPAA-compliant and maintains industry-standard certifications including ISO 27001, ISO 27701, SOC 2 Type II and Privacy Shield. We’re also in the process of obtaining HITRUST CSF certification.

Our digital tools are built to understand natural language, so patients can use familiar words and phrases. Conversational AI guides dialogs to deliver education, information and guidance relevant to each patient’s situation. Plus, Orbita offers integrated multichannel functionality, deploying its virtual assistant across web, text, voice (IVR) and smart speakers, so patients can interact in the manner most comfortable for them.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes your company has seen around how health systems are approaching patient education since 2020?

A: The most prevalent trend is the rapid acceleration of consumer-centric digital approaches. Patients have become used to digital tools and self-service options in other areas of their lives and now demand the same in healthcare. They want access to information and the ability to ask questions, schedule appointments, and manage their care with the methods they are most comfortable with, including phone, SMS, email, or smart speaker. Health systems need to meet patients where they are and provide easy to use tools to inform, educate and engage.

Q: What does an ideal client look like? How are health systems best organized for success in advancing their patient education capabilities?

A: The ideal Orbita client realizes that greater automation benefits both the patient and the organization. At the same time, they don’t want to compromise on the empathy that characterizes healthcare. These organizations seek technology partners to help them adopt digital tools that exhibit both convenience and compassion. Often, these organizations have started down a digital-first path, recognizing that virtual assistants don’t replace human interaction, but augment them.

Q: What measurable outcomes have you seen from your clients?

A: Orbita solutions are applied across a variety of use cases, driving specific results according to each health system’s objectives.

  • A large, Midwestern academic healthcare system used Orbita outreach solutions to educate and guide frail elderly patients through a regular exercise program after discharge. Over 10 weeks, grip strength among participants increased 70 percent and their ability to complete five repeated chair stands improved by 89 percent. No patients were readmitted.
  • A mid-Atlantic system deployed a multi-channel (cascading across email, text, and voice) Orbita patient outreach campaign to monitor status post-discharge. The program achieved 86 percent patient engagement. A brief automated survey verified that 68 percent of patients improved according to expectations, meaning that nursing staff only needed to reach out to 32 percent instead of the full cohort.
  • One Orbita client recently deployed the solution to ensure that referrals made during urgent care visits were scheduled. Using automated SMS messages, this provider saw a 23 percent increase in scheduled referral appointments. The messages were sent 24 hours after the urgent care visit and included the provider’s contact information and a link to book follow-up appointments.
Q: What major functional enhancements and/or product investments are you making in the near term to keep up with the evolution of patient education?

Our priorities for 2023 are three-fold:

  • Building out our Blaze functionality so patients can self-serve and find precise information and guidance through provider websites. We see ample opportunity to vastly improve the current status of healthcare searches by marrying the best of Google-like functionality with a smart and empathetic virtual assistant.
  • Refining and expanding the Orbita Patient Self-scheduling solution. This helps healthcare providers respond to patient demand for consumer convenience (like Uber or Open Table) and helps organizations reduce leakage if patients find it easier to schedule appointments, services, or procedures elsewhere. This will become increasingly important as retailers like Walmart and Amazon enter healthcare delivery.
  • Supplying health system clients with dashboards and detailed analytics so they can measure and improve the way they engage and educate patients and see how their digital tools elevate the patient experience and enhance outcomes.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities that health systems should be thinking about this coming year when it comes to patient education?

A: Health systems must acknowledge that their patients are, in actuality, customers, and treat them as such. That means delivering information in ways and across channels that are most convenient for the individual, not the organization.

Q: How do you see patient education evolving in the next two to five years and beyond?

A: We anticipate continued momentum toward digital-first, including continued growth of automated and live interaction hybrids. Health systems would be well-served to begin thinking about a long-term, enterprise-wide strategy to provide the best experience for their patients. This approach also ensures that organizations operate efficiently and effectively, and are able to capture revenue that might otherwise be lost.

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