At a time when everyone is consulting their smartphone for any medical question, where it is possible to download health applications, to monitor the quality of their sleep … Recent studies have shown that Apple’s Siri type of conversation agents or Google now , respond poorly to questions about illness or psychic suffering. If these agents can provide information on the weather or a precise location, health issues lead to limited responses that do not meet the expectations of patients in default. Another problem is the weak empathic power of vocal agents lacking physical interactions (facial emotions, etc.).
More empathic interactions
Researchers at the Sanpsy laboratory (Sleep – Addiction – Neuropsychiatry, CNRS unit and University of Bordeaux) have therefore decided to develop new digital tools based on medical scenarios mimicking a clinical interview with empathic interactions. They created the first virtual animated or human conversational agent capable of conducting a smart interactive interview to diagnose depressive disorders. This interview between a virtual human and a patient is built from a validated medical reference (DSM-5), enriched by turns of sentences and body and facial gestures that strengthen the patient’s engagement in the interaction.
The virtual human well tolerated
This study, conducted on 179 patients and published in March 2017 in Nature’s open-source journal , Scientific Reports, was used to test the diagnostic performance for the characterized depressive disorder. The experience was based on the animated conversational agent’s identification of specific symptoms (described in DSM 5) in out-patient patients. The results indicated that the diagnostic capacity of this tool increased with the level of severity of depressive symptoms. Second interesting result: the good acceptability by patients of this conversational agent similar to a virtual human female named “Julia”. The researchers were able to show that these tools are working and that they are promising to conduct standardized clinical interviews in support of consultations provided by doctors and carers.
Towards a digital hospital
The challenge is not to replace the doctor, but to assist the doctor to more quickly diagnose unidentified patients as depressed and possibly, in the future, provide quality medical care at the patient’s home. This research is part of a digital hospital idea that will ensure a continuum of care of hospital services to the home of patients to increase the autonomy of the latter.