Tech in Action: Dialogue makes a COVID-19 chatbot

The health tech company aims to fight misinformation, providing facts and tips based on a user's location and risk factors.

Dialogue Technologies Inc--Dialogue Launches an Automated Medica

Health tech company Dialogue has created a digital health tool it hopes will help Canadians stay up-to-date on the best course of action when it comes to COVID-19 at a time when online misinformation is running rampant.

Available through a chatbot interface on both mobile and desktop, “Chloe” will prompt users to answer a series of questions to identify their location and understand what their potential risk factors for COVID-19 might be, such as travel history, pre-existing medical conditions or prevalence of the disease in their area. From there, it will provide the latest publicly available information and resources, including contact information for local health public units, prevention tips and a list of affected countries and travel safety advisories. The tool is free to use for everyone in Canada.

Given the rapid spread of the virus and how quickly efforts to combat it have changed, Dialogue encourages users to check back to Chloe to ensure they have the most up-to-date instructions and advice. Chloe is also completely open-source, allowing Canadian health and government organizations to contribute new information as it becomes available.

Dialogue developed the tool in response to concerns it was hearing from patients about needing information about COVID-19 that is both up-to-date and accurate. Misinformation has been a major issue as COVID-19 has grown from a viral outbreak to a global pandemic. Hoaxes about where and how the disease is spread, the nature and severity of the disease, and how to best prevent or treat it have spread rapidly online.

Dr. Daniel Lalla, an MD who currently works at Dialogue but has previously worked in public health during the H1N1 and SARS outbreaks, says he has “seen first-hand how the lack of accurate and timely information can impact the containment and mitigation of infection.” He adds that “the more informed the public is, the more likely it is to take preventative actions to stay healthy or consult with health care providers sooner to increase chances of full recovery.”

Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter – which have previously been criticized for not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation – have instituted measures to attempt to stop the spread of misinformation; while they have had difficulty stopping the spread of viral posts and content from users related to the disease, they have been using methods to detect when users are searching for information related to COVID-19 and redirecting them to resources from appropriate local health authorities.