Thursday, July 11, 2013

Health care agents on mobile phones for pets?

I was just listening to a podcast about new health care technology using mobile phones. For example: someone wants to start eating healthier food. They install an agent on their mobile device which checks in with them every few days, asking things like How’s it going? Not so well? Why not? These agents are interactive, so if the user complains that things are not going well, it can understand the answer and reply: Here are some ideas to help you get past that particular hurdle. So I thought: why not for pets?

Imagine that when someone adopts a new dog (from a breeder or a shelter) they are asked if they’re willing to be signed up for a free preventive health care service. When they agree, they give their mobile phone number to the service. The shelter also provides some information about the animal: age, gender, if it is already spayed/neutered, and anything they think might need followup (such as if the animal is not housetrained, or if it is a jumpy-mouthy dog).

A week later, the new adopter gets a text message: How’s it going? Have you made your first vet appointment for Buster yet? No? Would you like some suggestions of veterinarians located near your home?

A few weeks later: How’s Buster? How is housetraining going? Not so well? Would you like some suggestions of dog trainers located in your area? The application might also alert the shelter that there is a training problem, so that the shelter can provide some followup if they have the resources.

And perhaps yearly: How’s Buster? Have you gotten his yearly checkup?

It would make an interesting study: are owners randomized into this service less likely to return their new pets than owners who are randomized out of it? How many owners continue to use the service (and how many request being removed from it)? Do owners find it helpful or annoying?

The first step, I imagine, is for me to do some reading on how these agents are implemented on the human side. I don’t know anything about this particular area, so anyone out there in internet land who has ideas for where to start (specifically, suggestions of peer-reviewed papers), they’d be welcome!


  1. My former colleague Jessica Toussaint is actually working in the mobile health app space. I've pointed her at this post.

    1. Although possibly I may be all set as I found this: (This is apparently the group where the person I heard being interviewed works.)