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How can VCAs help manage chronic conditions?

How can voice-based conversational agents support us with managing a health condition? In their research article titled “Voice-Based Conversational Agents for the Prevention and Management of Chronic and Mental Health Conditions: Systematic Literature Review”, the authors Caterina Bérubé, Theresa Schachner, Roman Keller, Elgar Fleisch, Florian von Wangenheim, Filipe Barata and Tobias Kowatsch, looked into this question by using a systematic literature review.

Voice-based conversational agents can be used as an alternative to text-based mobile interventions. They have the goal of supporting us in making changes to our lifestyle and health behaviours. Voice-based conversational agents (VCAs) are able to recognise human voice and to respond to triggers. These devices can assist us with everyday tasks and provide us with reminders. The authors explain that compared to text-based conversational agents, VCAs have the advantage of using the naturalness and and social presence of human conversations to create an alliance with the user. Additionally, VCAs can offer invaluable support to people with disabilities and impairments. For instance, a patient with a visual impairment might get access to care and support at home through a smartspeaker.

In their study, the authors set out to understand the current evidence level for using VCAs for the prevention and management of chronic and mental health conditions. The authors were additionally interested in comparing the methods used to evaluate these tools.

To investigate this, Bérubé et al. screened 7170 citations from electronic databases, arriving at 12 research articles which met the inclusion criteria. The studies identified were most often targeted at the chronic conditions of cancer, diabetes, and heart failure. There was a wide variety regarding the age groups and sub-groups studied. The VCAs identified in these studies were most often used on a smartphone, with smart speakers and tablets also featuring.

Overall, most reviewed studies showed encouraging results and the authors identified great potential for noncommercial VCAs in health-related support compared to commercial VCAS that offer a more superficial support regarding health matters. The authors reported several limitations to their findings, including the fact that no experimental studies could be evaluated. The authors concluded that more research into the use of VCAS in healthcare is needed, especially with a focus on health outcomes. Bérubé et al. further suggest that a framework for developing and evaluating VCAs would ensure standardised implementation of such tools which would help to compare and evaluate VCAs.

For further details, please watch the lead author’s video abstract below and refer to the full research article.

Reference:

Bérubé, C., Schachner, T., Keller, R., Fleisch, E., von Wangenheim, F., Barata, F., Kowatsch, T., Voice-based Conversational Agents for the Prevention and Management of Chronic and Mental Conditions: A Systematic Literature Review, Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) 23(3):e25933, 10.2196/25933.

Visual Abstract

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