Online role playing tool helps pediatricians navigate the “Your child is overweight” talk

Health IT company Kognito has developed a simulation platform to help physicians initiate challenging conversations around child obesity. It’s the product of a two year collaboration it and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.

Change Talk: Childhood Obesity (full version) from Kognito on Vimeo.

Uh oh. You started a reasonably pleasant conversation about a child’s health, but things went downhill fast after the child’s mother reacted angrily to your advice about weight management. Now she’s leaving. This is just one scenario in a simulation platform health IT company Kognito developed to help physicians initiate challenging conversations. It’s the product of a two-year collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.

“Change Talk: Childhood Obesity,” is a Web-based program and mobile app developed by Kognito. It’s being made freely available to healthcare professionals. It developed the simulation tool to do role-playing exercises between family physicians, pediatricians and healthcare professionals around child obesity. The platform imparts motivational interviewing techniques to help navigate these delicate interventions and that includes building empathy, trust and stronger listening techniques.

One of the drivers of the program is the Affordable Care Act. Under ACA, physicians need to do more to encourage behavior change, particularly for obesity and smoking which can lead to or increase chronic conditions and thereby increased healthcare costs. But they often involve initiating uncomfortable conversations about diet, exercise and changing behavior.

In an interview with MedCity News, Kognito CEO Ron Goldman said the goal is to make family physicians, pediatricians and healthcare professionals who feel ill equipped to have the conversations more confident. He emphasizes that one takeaway from the platform is there is no one correct way to have this conversation with a family.

“The human factor cannot be ignored. Knowing how to have these conversations in an effective way is critical and we should never lose sight of that,” Goldman said. “The idea here is to let you experiment in this environment and let you see and experience what happens as a result. We want users to experience consequences.”

The program puts the user in the role of a pediatrician starting the sensitive topic of obesity with a mother and her son. Each of the characters has a personality, emotions, and memories that inform their perspective and triggers a response when the pediatrician speaks. By practicing these interactions it can help physicians make decisions on what to tell families and how to express themselves. Users can ask for more information. They can be judgmental and see how patients respond, based on the responses the user gives. Through the conversation, the user learns how to use motivational techniques to help families make changes to their diet and exercise routines.

Goldman also hoped that consumers would download the app as well and gain insight from these simulated interactions.

Kognito developed an interesting role-playing tool to help primary care physicians identify signs of post traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to improve referrals.

Three of Kognito’s simulation programs are categorized as evidence-based, “so there is hard evidence that this works,” Goldman said.

The idea is to expand these tools to include interventions for chronic conditions so it becomes a library of conversations.