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Technology Healthcare

Virtual therapist might boost patient engagement

By Jim Rowland
Virtual_therapist_might_boost_patient_engagement.jpg
Meet Ellie, a new robot therapist.

Doctors have been faced with the challenge of patient compliance for years now, but a new technology in the form of a robot therapist may be the key to loosening sealed lips. 

As The Atlantic reported, a virtual counselor that goes by the name Ellie has been assigned to help veterans get over post-traumatic stress disorder among other challenges. Ellie's design allows her to nod along when the patients talk, read facial expressions and even make a sad face when someone speaks of a traumatic event.

World, meet Ellie
She's the brainchild of a team from the University of Southern California and funded by DARPA, the Defense Department's research team. 

"Ellie's design allows her to nod along when the patients talk."

Ellie's creators emphasize the importance of making her seem just lifelike enough while maintaining an air of virtual reality, according to the LA Times.

"She has to offer the best of both worlds," said Gale Lucas, a social psychologist at the institute. "She has to be human enough but also look like a machine. If she was just like us, it wouldn't work."

Just like a human therapist, Ellie starts with basic questions and works her way to more challenging ones. Because she's not a real person, people have found it easier to open up to Ellie. 

"People opened up more to the virtual human than to a real person. They said they felt less judged by the virtual human,"  Lucas told the source. "It's about what's happening in the moment — having a safe place to talk," she added.

Virtual_therapist_might_boost_patient_engagement2.jpgPatients may have an easier time telling their secrets to someone who's not fully human.

Lessons from Ellie
Technology like Ellie can serve as a segue into improved patient-doctor communications. The technology can be used to accumulate data about a patient that a person might be hesitant to share with a health care professional because it might be embarrassing or private. Doctors can gather information from technologies like Ellie and the patient portal and use it to boost patient engagement. 

Ellie has only been used in a research setting thus far. However, in the coming years, the world may see more therapists and medical assistants like Ellie if the technology proves to be useful. 

In the meantime, if you're interested in sharing information with your health care professional in a setting that's not in person, sign up for the patient portal. Visit Healthjump.com to learn more about its extensive benefits for both patients and doctors. 


by Jim Rowland

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