Let me introduce you to Chloe and Louise, two charming and dedicated medical professionals the likes of whom I expect to be seeing more of as the healthcare industry continues to find innovative ways to improve patient care and lower costs.
Chloe is an avatar developed for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of Colorado by CodeBaby to relieve the pain and frustration we all feel when dealing with the health insurance issue. "Health insurance companies have a big consumer experience problem," wrote Melody Smith Jones recently in a healthcare IT blog at Perficient, a technology and management consulting firm. That well may be the understatement of the year. But Jones is bullish on the roles avatars can play in adding "human contact" into the digital patient experience.
Human contact may be a bit of stretch, but the idea makes sense, particularly in light of some early reports from providers starting to gamify healthcare in areas such as hospital discharge procedures and direct care for substance abuse and mental health.
Chloe’s job will be to greet consumers when they access the CareFirst website. She’ll talk consumers through their medical needs and choices in what proponents says is a comfortable environment where people are less self-conscience about asking questions.
Chloe’s official debut is scheduled for October, with the opening of Colorado’s health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. Louise, on the other hand, has been working as a virtual discharge nurse at Boston Medical Center for several years. She’s part of a pilot program to find out whether animated avatars are effective in explaining medical instructions to patients as a means of easing the transition from hospital to home and lowering readmissions.
The experience is completely interactive. Louise asks patients questions to assess whether they understand discharge instructions. They choose answers from a touchscreen panel. Patients can also ask questions or indicate via a touchscreen when they don’t understand something. She has the face of a pleasant, middle-aged woman of unclear ethnicity and can express emotions as she speaks -- even register empathy. What’s more, Louise will patiently go over the material as many times as is necessary, longer than a mere human could likely tolerate.
The response, according to developers at Project RED (re-engineered discharge), has been extremely positive. In a follow-up study, roughly 74 percent of discharge patients told researchers that they actually preferred receiving their instructions from the virtual Louise over actual doctors or nurses. "She kept asking if I was tired, if I wanted to take a break. She cared about me, you know," one patient told the Project Red Team. Another said Louise offered more "quality time" than she had experienced with staff at other hospitals. "It’s more helpful than talking to a person," said a third.
With the inclusion of the IT sector in terms of hospital management, the bases are broadened and boundaries on their way of dissolving. Chloe and Louise are examples of where the technology industry is heading.
Patients are mainly of two types: one that knows very much, and another that knows very little. Both of these kinds of patients are exceptionally dangerous to deal with. Conceptualizing an interactive way (of forming avatars) to deal with patients is ingenious. Healthcare sector benefits from such avatars that guide patients through their treatment, and make it easier to understand for the patient, thus increasing satisfaction.
I was a bit skeptical at first—I'm not one to be "duped" into thinking that an animated face adds to the humanity of the interaction. But I do think there's an advantage of the avatar that I'd appreciate. I'm pretty sure that if a company goes through all that trouble to program this avatar, I'd be assured that the content is correct. Human error can occur with individual staff (not a stranger to that) so an avatar would probably give more trustworthy information.
Thanks for great post on Chloe and how she will help new enrollees navigate the upcoming health insurance enrollment process. Just a few corrections, CareFirst BCBS is out MD serving the MD, VA, and DC area. However, CodeBaby is located in Colorado. We also serve several other national exchange/benefits carriers to help them optimize the insurance enrollment process.
Interesting that you mention Louise, we have the same capabilities on the healthcare, patient engagement side and have referenced her in our newly released eBook. 3 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience Using Virtual Health Assistants Across the Care Continuum. http://cbstudio.uberflip.com/i/156966
Thank you for all the great comments, concerns, valid points, and questions. To answer some of these comments...
You bring up an interesting point about the uncanny valley. We have conducted quite a bit of research in this area to ensure we avoid the "creepy valley" as we also like to call it. The big eyes and high wide brows and cheek bones help us avoid the turnoffs one might see with too photo realistic avatars.
You bring up a great point, I think technical jargon warrants conversion into everyday language the patient or member can understand. Whether it's delivered through a human or avatar.
Why female avatars? Well, it depends on the application, industry, and information being delivered. We have both kinds of avatars but I can say female avatars are chosen more often than male avatars to be the company spokesperson. However, because of the careful scripting and persona process we conduct, they are equally effective.
These avatars created by CodeBaby blink and lip sync to any language. They are effective at creating a human-like connection that reduces stress and confusion. We combine these avatars with decision support tools like menus, call-outs, forms, videos, etc. It's not just the avatar, it's really about transforming the entire online experience. Additionally, they can deliver personalized information if connected via API into any web-based platform.
I would think that robotic avatars will be just like automated IVR systems... a stilted uncanny-valley smile is not going to make a customer satisfied when the answers they're looking for are still not given to them. Self-service can work, but animated characters aren't the silver bullet.
You make a great point, DrT, on maybe focusing on making the healthcare system more simple and understandable! That makes great sense. If we have to take so much effort to explain it, maybe we don't have it right.
Then, maybe we can work on making it more human friendly as well!
You reminded me of a joke, Mitch! A person called a help line when the thieves suddenly broke into his house..and was badly stuck with the instructions saying dial 1 if there's a one thief, press 2 if they have any intentions to kill you ...blah blah blah, making the task of thieves much easier!
Hope these avatars won't do the same thing with patients and assist them before they die!
@dawrey THe issues in Obamacare are indeed confusing, but in my state -- Massachusetts -- we've had Romneycare (the model on which the Affordable Care Act is based) since 2006 and it's quite popular. No avatars, though, as far as I know, except for, or course, Louise at Boston Medical Center.
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