AI Supports Early STI Intervention in LGBTQ+ Communities


AI Supports Early STI Intervention in LGBTQ+ Communities

Carter Lee

This article was written by Carter Lee of Ash Wellness partner OpenLoop

Ash Wellness partner OpenLoop is a leader in white-label telehealth support services powering virtual and hybrid care across the country.

Individuals in the LGBTQ+ community commonly feel stigmatized by or have experienced discrimination within the health care system. Doctors' offices can be a nexus for uncomfortable or even painful questions based on assumptions of sexuality. Because of this, LGBTQ+ patients can delay seeking care or avoid it altogether. According to a study done by the LGBT Foundation, 1 in 5 gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals say their sexual orientation has been a delaying factor in seeking health care. 

Luckily, AI technologies such as chatbots, along with at-home diagnostic testing, can improve care for the LGBTQ+ community now and in the future. Smart technology like virtual assistants has the potential to eliminate provider judgment so patients feel safer asking questions and may be more likely to discuss stigmatizing health conditions with AI than a health professional. 

AI chatbots also allow patients to seek information from wherever they are, offering discreet and convenient resources. Public health departments and traditional medical institutions could use AI for early intervention and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in LGBTQ+ communities. 

The basics of AI chatbots

AI powered chatbots / virtual assistants use algorithms to respond to questions and queries in a conversational form. These chatbots can be used in a variety of different contexts. OpenAI’s increasingly popular  ChatGPT is an example of a general-purpose chatbot. There are also chatbots that are specifically designed around certain topics, like Roo. Roo is a free, secure chatbot from Planned Parenthood designed to answer teens’ sexual health questions. 

When chatbots are used in a medical context, they can act as symptom checkers, a medical companion or for educational purposes. AI chatbots are typically user friendly and free to access online. This makes it easy for anyone, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, to seek treatment information and educational resources. 

AI and virtual symptom checkers

Patients using the internet to “self-diagnose” is not a new concept. Patients have been googling symptoms (and often  jumping to conclusions) for years now. However, AI chatbots offer a more comprehensive and accurate method to check symptoms outside of a medical setting. For example, AI powered chatbots can assess symptoms, sexual activity, sexual orientation as well as other provided information to determine if a patient should seek medical help and offer treatment center recommendations around them.

Some chatbots are better equipped for checking symptoms than others. Although patients will likely receive an accurate assessment from a general purpose bot, a medical chatbot might be a better option. Google’s LLM chatbot Med-PaLM is a great option as it pulls from medical databases as well as medical licensing exams. 

Med-PaLM pulls from medical databases and medical licensing exams.

When Med-PaLM was tested by researchers at Google, its answers aligned with medical and scientific consciences 92.6% of the time. (Human clinicians overall scored 92.9%). Performance of Med-PaLM was also assessed in areas such as completeness and possibility of patient harm. And they found that Med-PaLM’s answers were slightly less likely to cause mental or physical harm to patients. This is especially encouraging for marginalized individuals checking symptoms for more stigmatizing health conditions, such as STIs. 

Med-PaLM isn’t the only medical chatbot on the market. There are a handful of other chatbot-based symptom checkers (CSC) available. Each varies in its capability and the amount of information needed to complete an assessment. However, any CSC can help assist patients in assessment and treatment of diseases.  

Greater access to LGBTQ+-affirming providers and health education 

Virtual assistants and chatbots can also reduce barriers to health care by offering information to  patients seeking LGBTQ+ friendly providers or ones that practice gender-affirming care. AI’s vast databases and machine learning algorithms can tap into and compare clinician reviews and information. This would make it easier to find the right provider, offer a better patient experience and encourage treatment adherence.

Thanks to AI’s large databases and natural language processing, it is able to provide easily digestible, accurate information to patients quickly, including information specific to LGBTQ+ patients such as the need for three-site STI testing. Chatbots also use conversational language, making it easier for patients to understand the information they’re being provided.  

Barriers to health care and at-home diagnostic testing 

AI can speed patients through their medical continuum and may provide discreet and approachable symptom checkers for LGBTQ+ patients around STIs, but at-home diagnostic testing is a necessary part of the remote care flow. 

At-home STI diagnostic kits allow patients to privately and conveniently test for common types of sextually transmitted diseases without having to visit a medical facility. At-home kits can be easily ordered online and sent right to a patient’s home. Once the tests are sent in, patients can expect to see results within the week. 

At-home diagnostic testing and medical AI chatbots give LGBTQ+ patients the tools to be proactive about their health while limiting potential triggers. By empowering patients to utilize symptom checkers, educational resources and at-home tests, public health departments and traditional medical institutions can support LGBTQ+ communities seeking STI screening and treatment. 

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