To what extent are conversational agents used by companies focusing on the management of Diabetes?

Workshop Presentation by Roman Keller

In this workshop paper and presentation at the recent BIOSTEC Scale IT Up conference (12-14 February 2021) by Roman Keller, Jiali Yao, Gisbert Wilhelm Teepe, Sven Hartmann, Kim-Morgaine Lohse, Florian von Wangenheim, Falk Müller-Riemenschneider, Jacqueline Louise Mair, and Tobias Kowatsch, the authors provide an overview of the evidence supporting the use of conversational agents in the prevention and management of Diabetes. The authors subsequently look at the question of whether digital health companies use conversational agents at scale to prevent and manage Diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic physical health condition which, if not managed appropriately, can lead to serious complications, with type 2 diabetes accounting for about 90% of all cases. Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) is strongly linked to modifiable lifestyle risk factors such as being overweight or obese, a poor diet, physical inactivity, and smoking (International Diabetes Federation, 2019; WHO, 2016). There is strong research evidence to suggest that T2D can be prevented, managed, and even reversed through lifestyle modifications and medication. Since everyday decisions regarding exercise and diet occur outside of clinical settings (Rui et al., 2014; Wu et al., 2019), virtual diabetes coaches in the form of Conversational Agents (CAs) have been identified as a promising digital health offering for T2D care.

In this study, the authors identified top-funded digital health companies via two venture capital databases, Crunchbase Pro and Pitchbook. Two independent reviewers screened the search results and the final list of companies was validated by three independent digital health experts. The top 15 most-funded companies were identified, accounting for over 90% of the total funding in this sector. The authors downloaded the identified digital services in the form of mobile applications and two investigators reviewed accessible apps and assessed whether a conversational agent was utilised in the care for patients with T2D. From the reviewed companies, 6 apps were not accessible to the researchers. Of the 9 accessible apps, 8 apps did not include any CAs, and Lark Technologies, Inc. was the only company with an app that employed a conversational agent. The authors identified the goals of Lark’s conversational agent as assistance, training, education, prevention and onboarding. The app utilised a counselling type of agent with a mixed dialogue initiative. Since they were only able to analyse one digital health solution, the scope of this analysis was limited. However, the authors conclude that the use of CAs for the management of T2D is currently still surprisingly low.

For more details, please refer to the full workshop paper.


Keller, R., Yao, J., Teepe, G., Hartmann, S., Lohse, K.M., von Wangenheim, F., Müller-Riemenschneider, F., Mair, J., Kowatsch, T., Are Conversational Agents Used at Scale by Companies Offering Digital Health Services for the Management and Prevention of Diabetes?, In Proceedings of the 14th International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies (BIOSTEC 2021) – Volume 5: HEALTHINF, 811-816 ISBN: 978-989-758-490-9 ISSN: 2184-4305. [PDF]

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