Interactive Virtual Health Counselor Promotes Patient-Provider Communication about Breast Density

Half of women undergoing mammography have dense breasts. Mandatory dense breast notification and educational materials have been shown to confuse women rather than empower them. Now, BUSM researchers are developing a smartphone App that acts as an interactive health counselor to improve a womans’ knowledge about breast density.

“Many women receive letters after they have a mammogram telling them they have dense breasts, but these letters are hard to understand. Interactive, smartphone-based education can add to these letters making medical information easier to understand. The public should know about the different evidence-based materials that may be offered to help them understand complex health issues, like breast density,” explained corresponding author Christine Gunn, PhD, assistant professor of medicine.

In an effort to educate women about breast density, researchers, in partnership with the Pink & Black Education and Support Network, a Boston-based breast cancer advocacy group, designed and tested an interactive, animated health counselor to provide women with information about their breast density.

Meet Dayna, the interactive, animated health counselor.

Focus groups and a survey given before and after watching a demo of the program were conducted with 44 women. Participants were very satisfied with the prototype and knowledge about breast density increased for six of twelve items.

The researchers hope that this prototype is the start of developing a comprehensive suite of mammography education tools that can help women understand key information throughout the entire breast cancer screening process. “There’s a lot of complex information, and the medical system doesn’t always do the best job of explaining things or can’t answer questions quickly if you aren’t in a doctor’s office. We hope tools like our virtual health counselor can support women, no matter where they are, understand their own health and empower them to get the right care when they need it,” added Dr. Gunn.

These findings appear online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.