Chat Health is a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving health literacy and uptake of preventative healthcare services through the applications of digital health and artificial intelligence. Understanding the urgency of COVID-19 and the importance of accurate information provision, we aim to provide resources for users to stay healthy during this pandemic. We’ve created a website, a Telegram bot, and an SMS bot that are specifically tailored to students.

What it does

We tailored the bot for students and people who have COVID-19 or are caring for someone with COVID-19, as there are two additional sections beyond the basic information section specifically addressing the unique concerns of these demographic groups. For students, we specifically addressed some tools that they can use to make the online process more seamless, as well as general tips on mental health and how to deal with financial insecurity that might be the product of not having access to on-campus work opportunities. For people with COVID-19 or caregivers for people with COVID-19, we created an entire section devoted to methods for cultivating mental wellness, designating sick places in your homes, and how to effectively monitor your symptoms. This bot complements the text bot, which provides more specific, tailored responses to the user that might not be covered in the Telegram bot. The Telegram bot also is available 24/7, while there may be an inevitable delay in the text bot. Ultimately, the Telegram bot serves to expand on the website and provide immediate, structured support to users of all demographic backgrounds. In addition to the Telegram option based system, we have set up a peer to peer system by leveraging Twilio’s SMS API to allow COVID-19 information seekers to ask free text questions via text message. These messages are stored on our private server, where they can be accessed by our public health volunteers. When we receive a question, it is added to our questions queue that can be accessed via web-app by our volunteers. Our volunteers see the queue in an anonymous fashion (ie. they can not see the user’s phone numbers). In this queue, our volunteers are able to find government-verified answers to user questions, and deliver these answers back to the user via text in realtime. This complete system enables a peer to peer network where our users can anonymously ask questions about COVID information, prevention, diagnosis, etc, and get verified answers should we be able to provide one.

How we built it

With Telegram, we coded a basic chatbot using Python. Telegram has numerous built-in functions outlined in their documentation, which helped orient us when creating the multi-branched structure that compressed and categorized the information. We opted for a more structured approach that allows users to interact with the Telegram platform through buttons that help guide the conversation and give the user options. This bot does not respond to texts from the user and operates on a button-based system. The SMS version of this system is built primarily with Node.js as a backend server, with some frontend HTML/Javascript in order for our volunteers to be able to access questions via web-app. This backend server is hosted via amazon web service’s EC2 server hosting platform.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • We were able to build a fully-functional website in less than a week.
  • Actively managing a group of over 15 student volunteers ensuring quality information provision.
  • Two fully functional AI chatbots, each with a slightly different focus and target audience.

What we learned

Effective chatbot technology, especially in mitigating the impact of COVID-19, must move past diagnostic and testing support. To leverage this technology to make the maximum impact, one must look to providing support as well as unique resources for populations in need. Ultimately, in building out these various platforms and debugging at every step of the way, we learned what it takes to make a fully functional software system. This includes not only building your product but hosting it reliably and getting the word out as well!

What's next for Chat Health

  • In the future, we aim to make a generalizable peer-to-peer information system, and encapsulate this system into either web or mobile apps, or even a hybrid between SMS based tools and a web app. We believe that creating peer-based systems is the way in which we can create the largest impact overall.
  • In the future, post-COVID-19, we aim to utilize our software and partner with students at universities across the US to help build similar AI chatbot platforms for students to access health resources in their communities. Examples of this are chatbots which can provide students with resources to get HPV and Flu shots or STI testing at locations near them.
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