Tablet-based chatbots are under development to help terminally ill patients with end-of-life issues.
Professor Timothy Bickmore of Northeastern University is developing these special chatbots. He’s been working with a team of doctors, chaplains, and scientists on this project. The project’s primary goal is to ease suffering and improve quality of life. Bickmore wants palliative care introduced as much as a year before a patient dies. This change would give people more time for help and counseling.
“I think one-third of patients who get referred to hospice care die within a week, when they could have received services that may have reduced pain or improved their quality of life months earlier,” said Timothy Bickmore, Assistant Professor in the College of Science.
Harriet Warsaw, from The Conversation Project, has voiced her support. She told New Scientist magazine that a chatbot “would be a good first step towards talking about end-of-life decisions with a loved one.” The Conversation Project is a charity that encourages people to have end-of-life conversations.
The chatbot appears as an animated character on the tablet screen. It has modules that offer a range of services. These services include advice on medications, symptom tracking, and meditation for stress. Patients have conversations throughout the day about different topics as they need it, including spiritual topics. It’s also designed to keep them company with stories and social chat. Additionally, the chatbot helps with things like advanced care planning and filling out DNR forms.
Bickmore and his team tested the chatbot with 44 people who were 55 years old or older. Most participants reported that they felt less anxious about death. They felt more ready to complete their wills. The next trial phase will be with 364 participants. They will be using an advanced version of the chatbot.