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Assessing the potential of a Virtual Patient Advocate to provide preconception care and health advice to women living in Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2020

Ruth Walker*
Affiliation:
Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
Sheila Drakeley
Affiliation:
School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Clevanne Julce
Affiliation:
School of Medicine, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Nireesha Sidduri
Affiliation:
School of Medicine, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Timothy Bickmore
Affiliation:
Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Helen Skouteris
Affiliation:
Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia Warwick Business School, Warwick University, Warwick, UK
Brian Jack
Affiliation:
School of Medicine, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Jacqueline Boyle
Affiliation:
Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
*
Address for correspondence: Ruth Walker, Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia. Email: ruth.walker@monash.edu

Abstract

A preconception Virtual Patient Advocate (VPA) called “Gabby” supported African-American women to decrease their preconception health risks and may be a scalable resource to increase women’s access to preconception care. Aims were to assess the acceptability of a preconception VPA in women living in Australia and document the changes required to adapt Gabby to suit an Australian context. Taking a descriptive qualitative approach, nonpregnant female participants (n = 31), aged 18–45 years, living in metropolitan and regional Victoria, Australia interacted with Gabby. Focus groups (n = 7) that gathered participants’ perspectives of their experience with Gabby ran in July–August 2019 before being transcribed verbatim and thematically analyzed. Six interrelated themes and 12 subthemes were identified. Participants found VPAs to be an acceptable provider of health information with potential to increase women’s access preconception health advice. Gabby was considered to be trustworthy and was able to develop rapport with participants in a relatively short time. Context-specific, relevant, tailored and trustworthy information and advice were considered more important that Gabby’s physical appearance. Participants had strong opinions about potential technological advancements (e.g., reminders and rewards) and addressing navigation issues to increase Gabby’s acceptability. Participants envisaged that they would use Gabby for readily available and evidence-based information before seeking advice from a health professional if required. Overall, the concept VPAs to provide preconception advice and Gabby were acceptable to participants. Future development of VPAs, Gabby, and other online technology-based resources should consider women’s high expectations of the online health information they choose to interact with.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
© Cambridge University Press and the International Society for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease 2020

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