virtual-nurse.jpg The transition from hospital to home is often not smooth for most patients and this pushes up the rate of readmission. Automated health counselors may help in overcoming this problem. With this in mind, Timothy Bickmore, assistant professor of computer and information science, Northeastern University, Boston, is developing a virtual nurse in collaboration with Boston Medical Center. 220 people have so far participated in a 3-year clinical trial of the virtual nurse, which began at Boston Medical Center in the fall of 2008. It is estimated that the number will ultimately go up to 750 patients. This research is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Software Highlights
a. This animated nurse is designed to give pre-discharge patients more information. She is brought to a patient’s bedside via a computer on a wheeled kiosk.
b. A touch-screen display allows the patient to control the interaction.
c. Typically, patients spend about 30 minutes with the virtual nurse reviewing an “After-Hospital Care Plan” booklet that they are given.
d. The use of simulated conversation makes these counselors approachable even for those patients with no prior computer experience.
e. It can be easily used by low health literacy patients who might even find it preferable to receiving the information from a live doctor or nurse.
f. The virtual nurse is designed to display empathy through language and facial display of emotion, engage in social chat about the weather or current events and remember facts about patients’ personal lives.