May 6, 2024

Ingrid Folland and Ian Montgomery stand on stage at the BHIVA presenting

Presenting Pat at BHIVA Spring 2024 Conference

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Japeto was absolutely delighted to be asked to present alongside Positive East, at the British HIV Association (BHIVA) 2024 Spring Conference. This year it was held in Birmingham, UK from April 29 through May 1. Clinicians and community-organisations came together to share new research and developments around HIV in the United Kingdom. We’ve added the key points from our oral presentation here.

Improving access to HIV and sexual information through AI

In partnership with Ian Montgomery from Positive East, an HIV charity in East London, Japeto’s CEO, Ingrid Folland, gave a presentation on our ongoing sexual health AI work. The oral presentation “Pat: improving access to HIV and sexual health information through AI chatbot technology” provided a walkthrough of the community-based development and outcomes from implementing Pat on Positive East’s website.
 

Community-led development

The sexual health chatbot, Pat, is the first of its kind in the UK. The original project was funded by Comic Relief to develop a chat tool for Positive East in 2017.
 
Behind the scenes, Pat uses natural language processing, a branch of AI, to interpret was a user says and translate it into a way the computer can understand. After identifying a user’s question (or “intent”), Pat matches it with a pre-scripted response. This benefits the user because all information can be reviewed in advance so it is accurate and consistent. It removes all risk of “hallucinations”, or when a chatbot generates inaccurate information.
 
To identify what conversation topics Pat should cover, Positive East and Japeto did a series of user research exercises. Initial surveys asked potential users at local community events questions around how they access and search for sexual health information and what recent online searches they had. This established a starting point for what conversations to train Pat on. It also, very importantly, validated that a chatbot was a valid tool for providing discreet and personalised sexual health information.

Creating Pat's tone and style

After identifying conversations areas to focus on, our designer at Japeto sat down with staff at Positive East who handle HIV testing and prevention in the community. All of the questions were asked to them and their answers recorded. From this, we could establish essentially a style guide for creating Pat’s script – what was the tone for answers? Pat was established with the same voice. When creating Pat responses, we follow these rule: avoid too much enthusiasm, avoid apologising or being overally sympathetic, avoid euphemisms, don’t use “should” or judging language, provide clear information. The information should be concise, friendly and not dramatic.
 
This enabled the creation of a chatbot that provided the information with the same content and delivery as Positive East itself.

Outcomes from Pat

Pat has been live on Positive East website since 2018. Long before large language models became commonly available, Pat has been handling conversations about sexual health, HIV testing and care, and much more. Over the years, real user interactions have helped improve Pat’s library of content. It can now support over 300 unique answers, allows in-conversation STI/HIV test booking, and can provide a recommended date to test for common STIs based on when an individual was exposed (the window period calculator).
 
For Positive East, in 2019 they reported a 70% reduction in emails to their main switchboard after implementing Pat. As early adopters of conversational AI, they have also received additional funding (Public Health England) and worked with research institutions to improve, evaluate and explore its efficacy as a tool.
 
Ongoing focus groups and feedback keep Pat community-led and help provide direct insights into how to improve the chatbot and check its performance.

Wrapping up BHIVA 2024

Ingrid Folland speaking at BHIVA Spring 2024 conference
Ingrid Folland and Ian Montgomery presenting at BHIVA Spring 2024 conference
We’re pleased to share that Ian Montgomery (Positive East) and Ingrid Folland (Japeto) won the Martin Fisher award for best oral presentation in the field of community-based work. Martin Fisher was an HIV consultant working in Brighton who built community partnerships across Brighton to works towards a clear “Towards Zero” goal. You can read about his legacy from the Martin Fisher Foundation.

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