News and Innovation

Chatbots to Safely Screen Patients at a Distance

Juan Espinoza, MD, Attending Physician, General Pediatrics

COVID-19 has required changes in every level of patient care as the nation strives to maintain safe intrapersonal distance. One way Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has addressed this issue is through the development and use of chatbots—software applications that mimic spoken human speech in order to engage in a conversation with a live person. Chatbots are a digital health tool that have the potential to be an effective and low-cost tool to screen patients for COVID-19 before they come to the hospital. Chatbots can assist with the triage and screening processes in a safe and scalable manner. A decision-making and implementation framework with considerations unique to the pediatric environment has been developed by Juan Espinoza, MD, and his colleagues in CHLA’s Innovation Studio. An article outlining the chatbot project was recently published in the journal JMIR. The chatbots are currently in use at CHLA, so patients can be screened before being seen in person.