New project aims to develop a digital health solution for promoting COVID-19 vaccination

Patients with compromised health conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, are at enhanced risk of contracting COVID-19. Unfortunately, these patients are also hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine because of their condition. A new project, led by Jessie Chin, assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), aims to develop an accessible, generalizable, and efficient digital health solution for promoting vaccination among vulnerable populations.

The project, "Building a Motivational-Interviewing Conversational Agent (MintBot) for Promoting COVID-19 Vaccination Among People with Multiple Sclerosis," has received a $74,992 grant through Jump ARCHES, a partnership between OSF HealthCare and the Grainger College of Engineering at UIUC and its College of Medicine in Peoria. Collaborators include co-principal investigators Suma Bhat (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Chung-Yi Chiu (Kinesiology and Community Health) from UIUC and co-investigator Dr. Jared Rogers and consultant Dr. Brian Laird from OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center.

According to Chin, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is an efficient and effective approach to address vaccine hesitancy and promote vaccine uptake. For this project, the researchers are developing an MI conversational agent, MintBot, for COVID-19 vaccination promotion. MintBot will initially be deployed in an OSF HealthCare clinic as a mobile/tablet application.

Literature has shown that the motivational interview for vaccination decision can be done in 10-15 minutes. The best way to link patients' behavioral intentions to actual vaccination is to make the actions available to them immediately. Patients who come to the hospital and have concerns about the vaccines can talk with the MintBot. Once they have the intention to take the vaccine, they will be able to get vaccinated in the hospital pharmacy right away."

Jessie Chin, Assistant Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

MintBot will be deployed later to specific groups who also have concerns about the vaccines, including people from underserved communities and those with disabilities and/or other health conditions.

"Our future plans are to work with the community/organizations to deliver MintBot to these specific populations, with cooperation with the local health departments," she said.

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