By Dr. Phred Pilkington Chief Executive Officer & Director of Public Health Cabarrus Health Alliance
With funding through the Beacon Community Program, Cabarrus Health Alliance and the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) collaborated to adapt a Virtual Character or avatar to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) environment. The avatar, ‘Anna,’ leverages Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) technology from Engineered Care. ‘Anna’ was designed to introduce WIC to new participants.
The first module of the avatar is an overview of the WIC Program which teaches participants how to effectively use their benefits. ‘Anna’ is a pregnant WIC participant excited to share with her peers. She uses teach-back questions and answers to ensure user comprehension.
An additional component of the first phase of the project was to assess satisfaction with and effectiveness of the avatar technology in the WIC programs. The Southern Piedmont Beacon Community includes the counties of Cabarrus, Stanly, and Rowan and each of their local WIC Departments. This cross-section of counties allows us to study the effectiveness in rural, rural-urban, and urban health departments. The study assessed the resources and time required to implement a digital health education solution. Touch-screen tablets were provided to two WIC Programs and small computer systems were provided to the third. Paper surveys were provided to WIC clients following the interaction to assess client satisfaction, knowledge and confidence.
At this time, the evaluation is still in process; however, preliminary findings suggest that WIC participants find the ‘Anna’ experience to be an engaging one. Anecdotally, participants offered that “This was better than face-to-face cause I have a tendency to zone out when someone talks to me” and “I liked her.” In addition, ‘Anna’ appears to be an effective learning option with participants noting that “Anna is …better than a DVD” and “this was better than someone talking to you.”
Effectively this project is a pilot intended to collect some preliminary findings about the efficacy of a computer avatar as a health educator. Assuming positive results with WIC clients, we plan to expand the role of ‘Anna’ to include health education in other public health clinical services and for community-based interventions.
For a five minute demo of ‘Anna,’ please click here [wmv file].