Using Digital Chatbots to Close Gaps in Healthcare Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Sars-cov-19, E-health, Healthcare Utilization, Innovation, Mental Health

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Introduction: Chatbots have emerged as a first link to care in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic, and consequent health system disruptions, expanded their use. Socios En Salud (SES) introduced chatbots in Peru, which experienced one of the highest excess COVID mortalities in the world.

Methods: SES and the government identified unmet population health needs, which could be amenable to virtual interventions. Chatbots were developed to screen individuals for these conditions; we describe the period of deployment, number of screenings, and number of people who received services.

Results: Between April 2020 and May 2021, SES deployed nine ChatBots: four for mental health, two for maternal and child health, and three for chronic diseases: breast cancer, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Mental health services were provided to 42,932 people, 99.99% of those offered services. The other ChatBots reached fewer people. Overall, more than 50% of eligible people accepted chatbot-based services.

Discussion: ChatBot use was highest for mental health. Chatbots may increase connections between a vulnerable population and health services; this is likely dependent on several factors, including condition, population, and penetration of smart phones. Future research will be critical to understand user experience and preferences and to ensure that chatbots link vulnerable populations to appropriate, high-quality care.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Public Health Action, v. 12, issue 4, p. 180-185