Combating patient loneliness through conversational AI

With disinformation and confusion about COVID-19 on the rise, effective patient engagement is taking on an even greater role.   

Studies have shown that engaged patients show improved health outcomes, and that effective tools can enhance service delivery.   

But it’s not always simply a question of communicating more. Communicating with impact is the real key – and innovators and vendors are exploring the best ways to do so.  

Two such teams are mPulse Mobile and Magellan Rx Management, which recently collaborated to address social isolation and loneliness in nearly 1,800 people with chronic and specialty conditions across the United States.

By using mPulse’s conversational AI platform, the companies say they were able to conduct dialogues via text messages with participants on a variety of health-related topics during a 45-day period.  

“This relationship blends conversational AI and technology,” Chris Nicholson, CEO of mPulse Mobile, said in an interview with Healthcare IT News. “It leverages a broad reach of capabilities.”  

The vendors say they conducted two pilot programs regarding the risk that social isolation and loneliness bring to overall health.   

First, they surveyed individuals during fall 2020, in the thick of COVID-19 and before vaccines were available in the United States. Then, they repeated the program over the summer.  

“We wanted to have a way to better reach our members who may be suffering from isolation,” said Dr. Caroline Carney, chief medical officer at Magellan, a pharmacy benefit manager. She noted that patients with HIV or rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, might be feeling particularly fearful at a time when COVID-19 could put them at elevated risk.  

“I don’t like collecting data for data’s sake,” Carney added. “I want to collect data because it’s actionable.”

In this case, she said, the vendors can find individuals reporting high scores of isolation and help them get the services they need.  

Throughout the pilot, said Nicholson, the companies sought to learn what barriers people were experiencing to care.  

“We could tailor and make recommendations,” he said, including “tips and best practices for helping people get engaged.”   

Nicholson also noted that the messaging components of the program included a visual element – namely, “fotonovelas,” which relied heavily on graphics and used minimal text.  

“It really applies to all segments and works well across all languages,” he said, allowing the vendors to “maintain a level of engagement throughout the multiweek program.”  

According to mPulse and Magellan, more than 34,000 messages were sent, with an opt-out rate of 27%.  

Patients rated the pilots at a satisfaction score of 90%.  

Perhaps surprisingly, although the average age was approximately 50 in both cohorts, the most engaged group were in their 70s.  

“There’s a myth that individuals approaching later in life are not using technology,” said Carney. “That’s absolutely not the case – they’re using it, and they’re valuing the option to have that kind of technology in support and interaction.”  

Carney stressed the importance of using information gleaned through patient engagement productively.   

“We can help people change their lives in real time by understanding where they are and meeting people where they are,” she said.   

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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