Virtual Humans in New App Help CDC Educate Breast Cancer Patients About Diagnosis & Treatment Options
The unique patient education tool seeks to improve survival rates and health outcomes for women with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), and was developed through a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, Westat Incorporated, health simulation company Kognito, and volunteer contributors.
TNBC represents 10-20% of all breast cancer diagnoses. Women with triple negative breast cancer have a 16% lower five-year survival rate compared to women with other types of breast cancer. The most effective treatment for TNBC is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy lowers the risk of dying and of the likelihood of the cancer returning, yet many patients with TNBC are reluctant to undergo chemotherapy.
The new app, called Talk to Someone: Triple Negative Breast Cancer, gives patients the opportunity to navigate through questions about breast cancer and treatment, and get answers from an emotionally responsive virtual TNBC survivor named Linda. Patients lead the conversation by selecting questions about TNBC, chemotherapy, life during treatment, and survivorship to Linda. The goal is to help patients gain the understanding to make the right treatment decision for themselves.
“A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and difficult to discuss with anyone,” said Dr. Lisa C. Richardson, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “This app offers clear and accurate information to help women learn about their diagnosis and treatment options, so they can have more informed conversations with their doctors.”
Linda, created using Kognito’s proprietary simulation and virtual human technology, speaks to the real-life experience of a survivor, possesses extensive knowledge of TNBC, and tailors her messages to each patient’s level of knowledge, concerns, and overall motivation. Kognito’s platform is based on research showing that virtual humans are safe, non-confrontational allies who can drive increased levels of engagement potentially leading to sustained behavior modification. The simulation’s backend analytics platform allows tracking of changes in patients’ knowledge and motivation to consider chemotherapy as they engage in the conversation with Linda.
The app is public and freely accessible to patients and their families. Oncology providers can also e-prescribe the simulation to newly-diagnosed patients or provide it to patients as a part of the clinic visit. The simulation is available both as a mobile app (Android and Apple iOS) and online at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/triple-negative.htm.
“TNBC accounts for as many as 2 in 10 breast cancers, and it presents a treatment challenge because it does not respond to hormonal therapy. Chemotherapy often is the treatment of choice, but many patients reject that option out of fear, lack of knowledge, or a combination of the two,” said John Patton, NACDD Director of Program Relations. “This initiative is designed to overcome those barriers by letting patients ‘talk’ with a virtual peer who has been through the treatment experience, can answer their questions intelligently, and can help put their concerns to rest.”
“This app provides a safe and personalized environment for patients to ask questions and approach emotional topics with a judgment-free, empathetic, virtual breast cancer survivor who is always available to talk and never short on time,” says Ron Goldman, Kognito Co-Founder & CEO. “We are excited to extend our use of conversations with virtual humans to offer this new form of patient education.”