Planned Parenthood rolls out chatbot to answer teens' sexual health, wellness questions

The new chatbot, called Roo, was designed to help teen girls between the ages of 13 to 17.
By Laura Lovett

Yesterday Planned Parenthood rolled out a new chatbot designed to help teenage girls get answers to questions about sexual health and puberty. The idea is to give young people a place to ask questions that have often been stigmatized or considered embarrassing.

The bot, called Roo, has been trained to answer an array of questions from how to handle a crush to concerns about sexually transmitted diseases.

The primary target audience for the technology is adolecents from the ages of 13 to 17; however, the platform is free for anyone to use. Users can ask a question on their mind or pick from pre-written questions on the platform. According to Planned Parenthood, as more users interact with the platform the broader the scope of questions it can answer. 

While the platform is primarily a bot, users can also be linked up to additional resources through the organization’s Chat/Text program, which is already running. 

Why it matters

Young people are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted diseases. People between ages 15 and 24 account for half of all STDs contracted in the US each year, according to the CDC. The agency attributes this trend to multiple factors including eduction, testing and number of sexual partners. It also notes that young women’s bodies are more susceptible to STDs. 

Patients are often more willing to be honest with virtual humans than actual people, Planned Parenthood said, citing a study published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2014

“As a physician, I know the importance of meeting people where they are with the information and care they need. At Planned Parenthood, we want to make it as easy as possible to get everyone the education and health care they need, when they need it, no matter what method of communication works best for them,” Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Developed together with teens, our new one-of-a-kind chatbot is another way Planned Parenthood is expanding ways of delivering personalized, immediate and accurate information to young people. No matter where you are, Planned Parenthood is here to provide you with evidence-based, judgement-free information.”

What's the trend 

Planned Parenthood has been involved in the digital health space for years. In 2014 the nonprofit piloted a service that prescribes birth control to women via video visits, powered by American Well. The organization could then send patients pills, patches or rings through the mail. The following year the organization launched an app that let patients in California order STD tests

Planned Parenthood also launched an app to help women track their periods and manage their birth control. 

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