Acceptability of a Digital Health Agent that Delivers Motivational Interviewing to Treat Alcohol Abuse: Comparing provider responses to consumer responses


BACKGROUND: Web-based and online interventions that target preventable, negative health behaviors have existed for nearly two decades, but the diffusion and uptake of these technologies has been slower than expected (Sanchez et. al., 2019). Increasing the acceptability of online interventions among various health professionals, communities and clinical populations has the potential to expedite their uptake into communities in need, such as rural communities with poor access to treatment. In this study, we explore factors that influence both alcohol users’ and clinicians’ perspectives of acceptability of an online digital health agent, or avatar that delivers a brief motivational interviewing (MI) intervention to treat alcohol abuse.
METHODS: After interacting with our digital health agent, 22 doctoral-level clinical psychology trainees and 18 alcohol users completed a post-intervention questionnaire based on a combination of O’Brien’s 6-attribute model, Heerink’s model and Bartneck's ‘Godspeed questionnaire’ to determine the acceptability, feasibility, and usefulness of the intervention. Descriptive and inferential statistics from the survey provide a preliminary understanding of clinicians’ and alcohol users’ perceptions of the acceptability of utilizing this technology.
RESULTS: Providers and consumers agreed (100% in both groups) that the health agent was either very competent, competent or somewhat competent. Both providers (59%) and consumers (78%) either agreed or strongly agreed that they found the health agent enjoyable. Providers (79%) and consumers (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that the agent could be useful to treat alcohol use concerns. Finally, 78% of consumers agreed or strongly agreed that the health agent was interesting compared to 27% of providers. This difference was statistically significant, t (38) = 6.027, p < 0.001.
CONCLUSION: Virtual health agents represent an acceptable form of health technology that have potential for a variety of applications to public health issues. Although both our consumer and provider participants enjoyed interacting with the technology and found it useful, our consumer population found it more engaging than our provider population. Gaining an understanding of how clinicians and alcohol users perceive online health interventions and why they choose to utilize them is key to ensuring the successful dissemination and implementation of such technologies in usual care settings.