Dr Liliana Laranjo and Dr Baki Kocaballi, both members of the AAAiH along with Dr Adam S. Miner from Stanford University, recently published their research on Chatbots in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the npj Digital Medicine Journal.

Chatbots are software programs that talk with people through voice or text in their natural language. Some well-known examples include “Alexa” from Amazon, “Siri” from Apple, and “Cortana” from Microsoft. They often come pre-installed on smartphones or home-based smart speakers.

During the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) began utilizing chatbots to share information, suggest behavior, and offer emotional support. The CDC named theirs “Clara”.

The researchers found, that if designed effectively, chatbots may help prevent misinformation, aid in symptom detection, engender infection-limiting behaviors, and lessen the mental health burden of pandemic response.

Despite this potential, the risk of amplifying misinformation and the lack of prior effectiveness research is cause for concern.

In a pandemic, no group of people remains unaffected for long. Together, patients, healthcare workers, academics, technology companies, NGOs, and governments can ensure chatbots say the right thing.