Health IT

CDC and Kognito utilize virtual human simulation to help breast cancer patients

To better educate triple negative breast cancer patients and ultimately improve health outcomes, the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control worked with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and health IT company Kognito to create an app that features a virtual human.

Triple negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer. Though it cannot be treated with hormonal therapy, it does respond well to chemotherapy. Understandably, getting a TNBC diagnosis can be frightening.

“Out in the ether of the world, women think it’s a death sentence when they hear that word,” Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said in a recent phone interview. “But it’s not. Most women still live even after that diagnosis.”

Unfortunately, TNBC patients are often less likely to pursue chemotherapy compared to other women with other types of breast cancer. Researchers believe this may have something to do with high health literacy demands placed on individuals diagnosed with TNBC.

To better educate patients and ultimately improve health outcomes, the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control worked with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and health IT company Kognito to create an app that features a virtual human.

More specifically, the project was funded by the CDC through an agreement with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. The simulation itself was developed by health IT company Kognito.

Titled “Talk to Someone: Triple Negative Breast Cancer,” the online and mobile tool allows TNBC patients to have a conversation with Linda, a virtual human and TNBC survivor. Users can ask questions about cancer, chemo, radiation, mastectomies, hair loss during chemotherapy, survivorship and more. Linda will then respond based on her experiences and extensive knowledge of TNBC.

She’s personable, empathetic and thoroughly explains everything. Linda can also repeat anything if needed, and regularly advises patients to speak with their healthcare team if they’re confused.

“What she’s doing is not just educating you in a way that is actually helpful to you, but she’s also increasing your motivation to pursue chemotherapy,” Kognito CEO Ron Goldman said in a phone interview. “She’s helping you have the right information to make the right decision for yourself.”

Another part of the app’s appeal has to do with its use of virtual humans.

“People feel comfortable talking to avatars,” Richardson said.

Kognito has leveraged people’s interest in avatars in its overall approach. In the past, the New York City-based company has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight to develop a simulation platform that helps physicians initiate conversations about childhood obesity. Kognito also joined forces with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch Conversations for Health, a website dedicated to simulated interactions between doctors and patients as well as parents and their children.

Photo: Kognito