Digital health tool tested to help immigrants

Digital health tool tested to help immigrants

Software funded by the EU to help immigrants access healthcare services in European countries has been tested for the first time in Spanish health centres.

Researchers received €3.6m to develop the software, which can be used on laptops and tablets to respond to users’ questions in their native language, or to interpret hand gestures or facial expressions – and then explain what they mean.

The software is tailored to target immigrants from the Middle East and north Africa.

Leo Wanner, the researcher leading the KRISTINA project, said: “Migrants who arrive in European countries may not be familiar with the health system at all.

“Our agent would be able to assess their problem based on their age, location, gender, and other things – so it can tell them in natural language where they need to go.”

The programme reminds patients about medical check-ups and vaccinations.

The software was tested this summer in Barcelona and Tarragona, Spain.

A second prototype of the KRISTINA project focuses on elderly Turkish immigrants and Polish health aides in Germany. The software can have conversations in German and Turkish and share tips on managing dementia and eating healthy food.

Wanner said the software tailors its assistance once it gets to know users.

“If we have an elderly person greet the virtual agent in a bit of a depressed voice in the morning, it will recognise that and ask what is wrong. It will ask if they slept poorly or look for anything it can do to cheer them up. For example, it might remind them their family are coming to visit later that afternoon,” he said in comments to Horizon magazine.

The KRISTINA project’s researchers said the software could be a way to improve health treatment and bring down costs for EU countries’ healthcare systems.