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Video Doctor Tested in California

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Getting the right information is crucial to helping patients deal with serious medical problems.

Now, medical researchers are using a new kind of doctor to get that information. This doctor is kind compassionate.. reassuring.. and never keeps you waiting.

Sound too good to be true? That's because she isn't real, she's a virtual doctor.

"My name is Dr. Ann Summers."

Ann Summers is not a real doctor. But this program has a very real, and very serious purpose. It's to get patients to answer some very personal questions.

Dr. Danley MPH/UCSF Researcher: "The first thing we tested was whether a video doc could get accurate sexual risk histories and we found that people were honest talking about their sexual histories with a computer program."

The video doc is the brainchild of researchers at UC San Francisco. The video doc asks the patient a series of questions, and then offers a number of options.

The patient simply chooses the option or options that are most appropriate.

"Based on your answers, I'd like to take some time to share some information with you about alcohol."

Several studies show people often felt more comfortable responding to the video doc than they did with real life doctors or nurses.

Dale Danley/ MpH "We found that the video doctor got more honest responses on a whole range of behaviours including sexual behaviour, alcohol, drugs, and smoking. It received higher rates of disclosure than the traditional methods such as pen and paper or face to face interviews."

The video doc doesn't just get information, she also passes on advice on ways to improve health behaviour. The program is already in use at Highland Hospital in Oakland for HIV patients.

The UCSF team is now putting together another program for women getting prenatal care. The idea is not to replace doctors or nurses, but to help them do their job more efficiently and effectively.

Dale Danley: "By developing these programs we want to support and simplify what the providers are doing in prevention, because they don't have the time or the resources to do the whole job in prevention."

The information gathered by the video doc is passed on to a real doctor, who works with the patient on finding the best approach to whatever problems he or she may have.

It's combining technology with the human touch to get the best outcome for the patient.

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