IBM Watson partners create physician avatars to 'empathize' with patients

A familiar face and virtual shoulder to cry on may be the missing link for patient trust and engagement with telemedicine. At least that's the solution Mequon, Wis.-based iDAvatars is throwing its weight behind.

The company — named in September one of the first 100 IBM Watson ecosystem partners to have already introduced its solutions to market — designs intelligent, virtual physician avatars that engage patients. Functionally, the company aims to have the avatars pick up on cues from patients and act as virtual stand-ins to make them feel at-ease, introducing a human element to health IT interactions.

iDAvatars flagship digital physician is named Sophie.

"What Siri does is she tries to be everything to everybody," Norrie Daroga, CEO of iDAvatars, told Milwaukee Business News. "Sophie's job is to understand the narrow question you're interested in. The engagement you have with Siri is nowhere close to the engagement you have with Sophie. Having a face and a visual appearance makes a big difference between a voice recognition system and something that understands you. Siri doesn't pick up your emotions."

The company was recently awarded an $800,000 subcontract from the Department of Veterans Affairs to spearhead the design of its interactive avatars. In addition to IBM, iDAvatars is partnered with Bayer Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente and RealSense.

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