Healthcare's New Friend: Avatars - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Patient Tools
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Healthcare's New Friend: Avatars

Healthcare providers use avatars in videos, portals, and other educational and support materials for patients and their families.

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Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
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When it comes to leading or teaching patients, avatars can make more approachable and relatable guides than their human counterparts.

Avatars are part of the intelligent virtual assistant market, which is expected to increase in North America at a compound annual growth rate of 33% between 2013 and 2020, according to Grand View Research. By 2020, global spending on IVA will reach $3.1 billion, the researcher found. Healthcare is helping drive this growth as organizations seek cost-effective yet engaging ways to interact with patients in order to meet federal mandates and target population health initiatives.

In July, Colorado Springs Health Partners (CSHP), which recently debuted its FollowMyHealth patient portal, will unveil an as yet unnamed avatar to help patients explore their health records, says Lynne Jones, director of marketing, in an interview. The avatar is designed to help the practice meet Meaningful Use 2's requirement to have at least 5% of patients engaged with the portal, she said.

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"We wanted a way to help us mete out metrics we need to get grant money for Meaningful Use," marketing manager Beth O'Brien tells InformationWeek. "It's hard to get patients to engage sometimes, especially when there's something new that rolls out, and we need them to go to certain areas of the portal."

The female-looking, ethnically neutral avatar will help patients navigate throughout the portal to locate electronic health record (EHR) information gathered from Allscripts, ask questions, schedule appointments, and refill e-prescriptions, Jones says. In addition to meeting Meaningful Use requirements, she adds, encouraging patients to use the portal reduces the time staff spends on these tasks, thereby improving overhead.

(Image: CSHP)
(Image: CSHP)

Although CSHP could have used real people as online guides, avatars are more effective and approachable, according to Kathy Wells, VP of customer engagement and self-service company CodeBaby. CodeBaby developed the IVA solution, including avatars and characters, for CSHP, she says in an interview.

The two companies -- which are located near each other -- are currently writing scripts to ensure that the avatar responds appropriately to patients' prompts

Alison Diana is an experienced technology, business and broadband editor and reporter. She has covered topics from artificial intelligence and smart homes to satellites and fiber optic cable, diversity and bullying in the workplace to measuring ROI and customer experience. An ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 2:12:27 PM
Re: Avatar vs. Human
Great idea, @HumanoidMe! The good news for us people: All the behind-the-scenes work continues to be done by humans, not avatars. And the target audience is people, ranging from patients to parents to physicians.
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 10:11:38 AM
Avatar vs. Human
I haven't interacted with avatars, so cannot base my opinion on personal experience, but I do get the experts' opinions and the results of research. While digging into this topic, I found several reports that showed we bring our own biases when we see people on videos: An actor might remind me of a former neighbor whom I strongly disliked, for example. OTOH, it could remind me of a good friend. An avatar is unlikely to provoke strong feelings either way, freeing a viewer's mind to listen only to the lessons or guidance.
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