URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois researchers have developed a computer-generated physician that they hope will improve engagement with patient portals.
The computer agent was developed in a collaborative project by scientists at the University of Illinois’ Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and Carle Foundation Hospital’s Research Institute.
Through the project, a computer-generated physician explains diabetes and cholesterol test results to would-be patients in videos designed for viewing on electronic medical records portals. The agent displays context-appropriate facial expressions, gestures and other affective cues that would promote patient understanding.
“The videos are intended to supplement, not replace, physician-patient interaction, promoting patients’ understanding of their health conditions and their performance of self-care behaviors,” said Dr. William Schuh, chief medical information officer at Carle Foundation Hospital, in a statement.
The patient’s test scores are embedded in a graphic on one side of the screen, and on the other side is the computer agent telling the patient what the scores mean. The agent explains the test results in layman’s terms, compares test scores to ideal scores and conveys the patient’s risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other serious health condition.
Schuh said patient portals are often underutilized, particularly by older adults.
“That’s because these systems tend to display data and may not necessarily provide explanations or other information about the data,” he said.
But because older adults are often self-managing chronic illnesses, they are the most frequent users of medical services and might benefit the most from access to their test findings and to educational and motivational health information, Schuh said.
The system is a long way from being implemented with Carle patients or those of other providers, said Daniel Morrow, lead author of a paper on the project, which was published recently in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics, in a statement.
The next step will be to obtain a grant to fund refinements to the design and possibly a pilot study in which patients utilize the system through a provider’s web portal, said Morrow.