January 25, 2024

Pat and NIHR Funding


Using AI to Bridge Healthcare Disparities in STIs/HIV Screening for Ethnic Minority Communities

£240,838 in funding from the NIHR National Institute for Health and Care Research was granted to fund research. The aim – to help create chatbots for public health within the NHS, with a focus on serving minority ethnic populations.

This was a partnered research endeavour by Positive East, the University of Southampton, and Brighton & Sussex Medical School, and the University of Westminster’s School of Social Sciences.

Photo by Total Shape on Unsplash

‘Pat’ the sexual health chatbot

Pat is an automated chatbot that offers personalised advice about sexually transmitted infections. Pat offers advice and promotes online screening services. The goal is to make online screening services more accessible and culturally sensitive to all. Pat needs to be culturally and socially appropriate for Black and ethnic minority communities. Users must feel comfortable disclosing personal information about their sexual behaviours for Pat to provide accurate recommendations.

Teaching Pat Cultural Awareness

The research team will engage with minority communities and healthcare professionals. Assessing the willingness of users to disclose personal and health-related information, ensuring that Pat becomes a trusted and accessible resource. That also aligns with cultural norms and social expectations. A simulation evaluating Pat’s overall performance with minorities will prove the efficacy of this research. The evaluation includes assessing intentions to test for STIs/HIV and the actual number that take HIV tests. The objective is to test technological proficiency and to understand the dynamics influencing healthcare choices in ethnic minority communities.

The NHS AI Lab's Ethical AI Initiative

The funding for this research comes as part of the NHS AI Lab’s AI Ethics Initiative. Dedicated to supporting research that validates, evaluates, and regulates AI-driven technologies in health and care. With a strong emphasis on countering health inequalities, the £1.4 million award to projects including Pat and three others was a result of a research competition by NIHR.

Positive East & 'Pat'

Positive East and Westminster researchers are building on the success of the chatbot ‘Pat.’ Originally designed to provide confidential sexual health advice, Pat has evolved into a comprehensive resource, addressing over 100 topics. Supported by Public Health England, Positive East is continuing to customise their sexual health chatbot to suit.

Inclusivity in healthcare

As Dr. Tom Nadarzynski, lead researcher and Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology, aptly puts it, “Artificial intelligence offers invaluable opportunities to improve the health and well-being of underserved and often marginalised social groups. We need to understand how this technology can best benefit all of us, so that no one is left behind.” For a deeper dive into the AI and healthcare landscape, visit our previous post about our work with Pat the Chatbot. Visit Pat for sexual health advice here. The research going into development of Pat goes towards inclusivity in healthcare and connecting communities with valuable resources.

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