Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kognito launch new website to simulate healthcare conversations

By Heather Mack

Kognito, the New York City-based patient engagement company that provides simulations with virtual humans, has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch a new series of conversation simulations aimed at getting people better at being, well, people, when it comes to talking about health.

The four new conversation modules are available to the public on a new website that uses the company’s trademark Conversation Platform with input from experts (including Missing Microbes author Martin Blaser, who makes a cameo to talk about the overuse of antibiotics). The simulations go through a primary care visit with a doctor (which can be experienced from the perspective of the doctor or patient), a simulation for parents with children aged two to five, and a virtual home visit between a family support provider, a single mom and her three-year-old son.

“We’re growing up in a world where we see technology really solving a lot of problems, but the benchmark of healthcare is the human touch,” Lois Drapin, senior vice president of Kognito’s New Health Markets told MobiHealthNews. “So we have this human intervention with an enabling technology that scales.”

This isn’t Kognito’s first time using virtual humans to impact behavioral health -- the company has been at it since 2003, creating conservation simulations that deal with everything from teenage emotional health and education, to PTSD, to training for college campuses in addressing LGBTQ issues. Overall, Kognito looks for areas to promote wellness through facilitating conversation, and has partnered with organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics to help maintain conversations between doctors, children and parents.

“We’ve seen a lot of good evidence that it really drives change,” Ron Goldman, CEO of Kognito told MobiHealthNews. “One of the things we really know is how the caregiver and patient are communicating is a core factor in their health.”

The partnership with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided the company a means to target conversations that would make a difference in primary care and family settings.

"Kognito's simulations represent a new and creative approach to engage providers and parents that we hope will inform our journey to build a Culture of Health across the country," Lori Melichar, director of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a statement. "By making them broadly available, we want to learn if virtual conversations can support better communication to improve the quality of our health care and help parents raise healthy children."

The conversation simulations are available at no cost for anyone with internet access, and research entities who want to use the simulations can also use them for groups of 50 or more.

For the everyday users, Kognito is trying to teach people new skills to foster more effective interactions with their families and healthcare providers. Down the line, Kognito hopes to have more partnerships with patient advocacy groups and health organizations.

“In a sense, it’s kind of a practice that you will do to learn how to have these complex conversations,” said Drapin.

The simulations are brief, lasting no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Players choose from a dynamic menu of questions and responses and a status bar informs them of how they are doing at being understanding, fair, patient or engaging. Based on the virtual human’s reaction, they can adapt their answers going forward, or even take steps back to try again.

“The virtual humans are coded to be resistant, non-engaged, assertive, defensive … we can give them anything,” said Goldman. “You just can’t go on autopilot, and you can’t think that the virtual human will just forget things when you click on a different button.”

Goldman said users can play as many times as they want, hopefully getting better at interactions and learning how to be more empathetic as parents and doctors as well as learning how to ask the right type of questions in the primary care setting. That said, Goldman admitted that not everyone will take the simulations 100 percent seriously all the time.

“Of course, we know that sometimes it’s fun to intentionally play in a way to make the patient mad,” Goldman said. “You can see that to a certain degree, it can be enjoyable to mess with someone.”Nike WMNS Air Presto Particle Beige 878068-201