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Can a period tracking chatbot pave the way to a women’s health AI?

An arcticle by Hajnalka Héjja, the co-founder of Berlin-based startup MediLad. Find the full story of MediLad here (Hungarian).

When I first told to one of my girlfriends that our chatbot would do period tracking, her smile disappeared from her face. She asked why would anybody still do period tracking anywhere in the era of so many other applications that focus on women and their reproductive health. Well, I think the market is still underserved and there are still many opportunities, and one leads to creating a mix of a friend and a virtual gynaecologist using AI.

So why would we need a women’s health AI on the first place?

Let’s face it: we are absolutely not living in an equal world. As much as we fought to have this freedom and rights, we still have a lot to do. Menstruation is something that affects half of the world populations on a monthly basis for decades, and it still represents a taboo in many societies around the world. Being a taboo, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about how the female body works, that has a huge effect on our daily choices.

The UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during menses and eventually drop out. In India, only 1 out of 2 girls have knowledge on menstruation before actually their first period would appear.

The UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during menses and eventually drop out. In India, only 1 out of 2 girls have knowledge on menstruation before actually their first period would appear.

Spreading information and educating the younger generations do have a huge effect on public health. Mothers and friends are important sources of information, but the psychological and cultural barriers prevent girls and women to communicate freely about their health. Starting with just as a simple thing of tracking the dates of your period can be a start of these conversations and there are great companies out there doing their own share: Glow, Clue and Natural Cycles provide accurate period and fertility tracking and also share information on reproductive health. However, there are just too mane topics that you need to cover and finally people get lost in the mobile screen or in front of Google.

The need is clear: women need education, support and understandable answers to their every day questions. Right here, right now, without any judgments, 24/7.

The promise of a better care: diagnosis disrupted

As humans, we are disadvantaged by our physical and emotional unavailability. While social media has created a previously incredible network of connections, it has also led to insincere interactions which have ironically created superficial relationships. But chatbots have the possibility to partially fill this gap. Backed by machine learning, these little talking chat robots are always on, always there, and always able to remember past conversations and also learn. And as the conversation is so easy and becoming more and more human-like, we find ourselves telling them about our deepest fears abandoning the feelings of shame and embarrassment that previously had hold us in chains. Like talking to a real friend.

This might be one reason why applications that provide medical support through chat and through chatbots have an increasing popularity. Some appplications claim to democratise healthcare like Babylon Health, HealthTap, Your.MD or Ada Health and they aim to do so by doing first line medical assessment through diganostic chatbots. Ada Health, for example, made a rapid use base growth since Dec 2016, now they have 400k downloads, with 4.9 rating. Babylon Health had 150 registered users in 2016 paying 11 USD/month, and an online patient base of 250,000 in the UK.

Soon, chatbots will open a symbolic door that cannot be closed, surpassing healthcare professionals in their ability to correctly diagnose and treat their patients, simultaneously treating millions, even billions of patients at once, all the while learning, improving and waiting.

The first step towards the future: one question and one answer at the time

Being attached to women’s health as a medical doctor and also as an evangelist of implementation of new technologies in healthcare, our team started to build a female health chatbot, Izzy. We realised quickly that using different platforms and creating this new technology opens up a completely new horizon in healthcare communication and also in women’s health.

It does that in two fronts, making chatbots solutions different from mobile apps profoundly. On one hand, it gives a real voice to users to express themselves and ask questions not only about menstruation but also hygiene connected to it, contraceptive pills and sexually transmitted diseases. We realized that by initiating these conversations only about period tracking, we triggered much deeper conversations about topics that are not strictly connected to menstruation but to women’s lives as a journey. A journey where taking care of your changing body represent new challenges and where women of all ages need massive support. And the first step to tackle down these challenges is always to talk about it. Only when women are educated and informed can they act the most responsibly about their own body and future. On the other hand, to be able to provide this amount of support in a human-like quality, we have to create a cutting-edge technology that has never existed before using tools for artificial intelligence like machine learning algorithms and natural language processing.

This is why we will take the next steps with our product. We will make it smarter to be able not only to track your period but be your real life companion and friend when you deal with your health as a woman. By starting a small chatbot, we opened up new doors and opportunities to create an artificial agent to advice women on their health.

…and I think, this is what my friend also started to realise since she is using Izzy.

Read the original post on Medium.

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