The health chatbot

by Samar Al-Montser

Young women need education and advice on sensitive topics that they might not be able to approach any local doctor with. Now, this advice can be given in a more comfortable and confidential space through Super Izzy’s artificial intelligence platform on Facebook messenger.

Some people might not think talking about women’s personal issues or topics are embarrassing, but some people do. Hungarian medical doctor and founder of Super Izzy chatbot, Hajnalka Hejja, thinks so. When Hajnalka was a medical student at Semmelweis University in Hungary, she had to go to educate school kids on how to take care of their own bodies. She found that many youngsters in elementary and high schools needed open conversations about their reproductive health without embarrassment and fear of being judged. ‘They need to be able to make educated and confident decisions about their bodies and their lives, ultimately,’ she says.

Hajnalka Hejja, founder of Super Izzy

Hajnalka started Super Izzy, the chatbot, in Germany to help advise girls on reproductive health issues. A chatbot is a computer programme that is designed with artificial intelligence to simulate conversations with human users. Super Izzy’s profile is a cute blue, yellow and red female bird that can be added on Facebook messenger. ‘We believe that this should come in an automated and curated way, that is accessible 24/7 and free of judgement,’ she explains. She started developing Super Izzy in 2016 when Facebook had just opened a platform for developers to introduce new solutions on it, like chatbots. ‘That seemed like a good opportunity to create artificial intelligence (AI) that could answer questions in reproductive health and bring a possibility of scale,’ she says. According to Facebook reports, there’s been significant growth in chatbot discussions between 2017 and 2018. This makes the future of chatbots look bright.

The mother-to-be thinks Super Izzy can provide expertise about women’s health and sexually transmitted infections through an instant messaging platform. Hajnalka and her team of programmers are not the ones directly giving the expertise or advice, but they are working on programming the chatbot to understand human conversations better to be able to respond with suitable advice.

Her business started as part of the StartupBootcamp Digital Health Berlin which is a leading accelerator for startups in Europe. Super Izzy is also in the Facebook Start Accelerate Program that helps chatbots utilise Facebook as a platform.

Privacy concerns

However, since the main purpose of this chatbot is to discuss health matters in a confidential digital space, one has to address the obvious concern; how private are the users conversations with the chatbot?. For Super Izzy, Hajnalka assures that their privacy policy is transparent. It states that the data will be used to improve the chatbots efficiency, but will only act accordingly to share information if they need to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding fraud or potential threats to the physical safety of any person.

This only seems normal as this is the case with many other privacy policies about information shared on Facebook and other sites on the internet. This certainly isn’t stopping 30K users worldwide from chatting to Izzy. One of the reasons they made Izzy have a face of a bird was so that people don’t assume Super Izzy is a human or they don’t think that a real person is answering their questions. ‘This is why we excluded the human like character like a nurse or doctor. The bird seemed a bit unexpected that could have a relatable story,’ she says.

Chatbots are generally thought of as secure means to communicate and are being integrated into businesses. Chatbots like Izzy might not pose a security threat, but if this gets applied to the banking industry, for example, it might be a whole new ball game. Hajnalka believes there could be secure ways to use them in other more sensitive industries. ‘Chatbots present a new interface, not necessarily new security issues or standards,’ she adds.

The Izzy experience

Her target market is generation Z women, who are basically the next generation of consumers and it’s free for now with plans of adding premium features in the near future. The most important feature of Super Izzy is that it can track women’s menstruation without downloading any app, but simply through conversations on Messenger. ‘She is just like a friend reminding you when you need to prepare for having your period. In addition, Super Izzy can send you reminders to take the pill, and also has a lot of content on hygiene, contraception and gynaecological diseases,’ she explains.

At the very early stages of Super Izzy, Hajnalka wanted to test the response from people and if they would really talk to a machine. ‘My most memorable moments are connected to the very first days of Super Izzy, when we were just testing the concept. The response was overwhelmingly positive,’ she says.

Future of chatbots

Though they’ve just started emerging, Hajnalka believes chatbots are here to stay and they’re not intended on, or going to, replace jobs. ‘What we intend to do with it is to help women understand their own bodies, and maybe help doctors and medical professionals in communicating about taboo topics,’ she says.

Some of the challenges she faces with this technology is collecting, organising and presenting the data. ‘Curating the data is always a big task,’ she says. Hajnalka is currently focusing on extending the topics that Izzy can talk about to be able to give more lifestyle recommendations and tips about health in a personalised way. So, for now, maybe security is not an issue for this chatbot.



Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash

14 Dec 2018
Last modified: 14 Dec 2018
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