Chatbots can increase immunization rates for children in vulnerable populations, according to a study published Wednesday.
AllianceChicago, a network of more than 70 community health centers in 19 states, deployed an AI-enabled chatbot at a Chicago-based community center to increase immunizations and well-child visits for pediatric patients. Parents and guardians of the patients were identified for immunizations and well-child visits and sent prompts via text and email to engage with the chatbot.
Families engaging with chatbots were 27% more likely to complete a visit than those who were in a control group where traditional methods of outreach were used. In total, the chatbots increased engagement in pediatric populations receiving care in community health centers by 8%.
“There was an increase in the number of patients who actually came in and were immunized,” said Dr. Nivedita Mohanty, chief research officer at AllianceChicago. “Had the pilot been extended for longer, chances we would’ve seen even better results.”
The results of the study were published in Telehealth & Medicine Today.
The pilot program lasted five months and included 500 patients, divided evenly between the chatbot outreach and the control group. The pilot program included prompts for English and Spanish speaking populations as 82% of the parents or guardians identified as racial and/or ethnic minorities.
"They're also individuals who are disproportionally impacted by health disparities," Mohanty said. "For me personally, making sure that we are engaging with this population, helping to reduce disparities in this population was of critical importance."
The chatbots forwarded appointment reminders and sent information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Mohanty credited the technology for the increased engagement.
“Something about engaging in the chatbot certainly made a difference—even in a very, very short period of time,” Mohanty said.
There was an age divide in the chatbot’s effectiveness, researchers say. While there was a 30% increase in well visits and immunizations for children aged 0-11, the was no significant impact between the two groups for older adolescents aged 12-17.