AllianceChicago chatbots helped boost childhood vaccinations

Chatbots could boost immunization rates for vulnerable children, according to a study published Wednesday.

AllianceChicago, a network of more than 70 community health centers in 19 states, has deployed an AI-enabled chatbot at a community center in Chicago to increase pediatric immunizations and visits. Patients’ parents and guardians were assigned to immunize and visit healthy children, and text and email messages were sent to them to interact with the chatbot.

Families interacting with chatbots were 27% more likely to visit than those in a control group using traditional outreach methods. Overall, chatbots increased the engagement of children receiving care at community health centers by 8%.

“The number of patients who have actually been admitted and immunized has increased,” said Dr. Nivedita Mohanty, chief scientist at AllianceChicago. “Had the pilot project been extended for a longer period, chances are we would have seen even better results.”

The results of the study were published in Telemedicine and medicine today.

The pilot program lasted five months and included 500 patients, equally divided between a group of chatbots and a control group. The pilot program included prompts for the English and Hispanic population, as 82% of parents or guardians identified as racial and/or ethnic minorities.

“They are also people who are disproportionately affected by health inequalities,” Mohanty said. “Personally, it is extremely important for me to make sure that we are engaging with this population, helping to reduce inequalities in this population.”

Chatbots forwarded meeting reminders and sent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mohanty noted that technology has increased engagement.

“Participating in the chatbot certainly made a difference — even in a very, very short period of time,” Mohanty said.

The researchers say chatbot performance varied by age. While well visits and immunizations for children aged 0-11 years increased by 30%, there was no significant effect between the two groups for older adolescents aged 12-17 years.

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