“Dr. Chatbot, I have this itch” – The Dutch STD Chatbot

– This Dutch STD Chatbot might be just the help you need – 
Do you have concerns about your sexual health?

Have you ever wanted a chat with a Dutch robot about your sex-life?

If so, that dream is one step closer to being realised. Soa Aids Nederland is a Dutch organisation specialised in promoting sexual health and combating HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STD/Is). They’ve now launched a STD chatbot to make it easier for people to talk about concerns regarding their sexual health.

This is to encourage more people to go see their GP or the Netherlands’ Public Health Service (GGD).

The digitalisation of health care: STD Chatbot

STD ChatbotIf this seems like a strange idea, it shouldn’t. It’s just another part of a wider trend to digitalise some aspects of health care. This helps increase accessibility and affordability. It also fights stigma surrounding some issues.
Indeed, similar initiatives are globally widespread (funny, just like STD’s) such as for mental health services. For example, the free site ‘7 cups of tea’ is a popular one-to-one chat platform where people can also volunteer as ‘listeners’. Many countries have online chat services for medical (and specific sexual) health services. In Sweden, you can consult specialists virtually and even get some diagnoses online.

Who’s the STD Chatbot for? 

The Dutch STD chatbot caters to everyone with internet access, but it is targeted at specific  groups at a higher risk of catching STD/Is. Mainly, these are migrants and gay men. Young people also might benefit a lot, as they’re likely to be less informed and most prone to go online for help, be shy, or to get worried easily.

It’s a really great initiative and fully anonymous. You can just use your laptop or phone to answer some multiple-choice questions. At any point, you can ask the bot a question too. It’s very thorough and asks about whether you’re a woman, man, or transgender, it asks about your partners, it checks whether you were raped, whether you’ve ever been paid for sex, and so on.

Be aware, it doesn’t replace a visit to a human specialist! You should always call or go see your GP if you’re worried. The chatbot also cannot consider every possible health problem, only STD/Is.

But it can be a first step towards reducing embarrassment, advice on self-testing (which is not always reliable!), generally inform the worried, give tips on further resources, and it also might mean people don’t freak out about self-diagnosed chlamydia when it’s actually just an ingrown hair.

The bad news 

The bad news is, STD Chatbot only speaks Dutch. 

That seems a bit silly, given that it’s targeted at people with a migratory background. And as stigma is often high for exactly these groups, they’re unlikely to feel comfortable with grabbing a Dutch-speaker to translate their intimate details.

Possibly, the service will be translated to other languages at some point (it is very new). But it seems an odd oversight.

Another hiccup is that the site is not ideal for mobile users.

All in all though, I think this is a useful initiative by the organisations involved. Would just like to see it translated!

I'm both an insider and outsider to Dutch culture. With the Dutch nationality and fluent Dutch, I'll happily sip a bike-beer on the way to a night out or snarf dropjes straight from the bag. As an outsider though, I've only lived on-off in NL.


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