Preliminary Evaluation of a Conversational Agent to Support Self-management of Individuals Living With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Interview Study With Clinical Experts

Hee Jeong Han, Sanjana Mendu, Beth K. Jaworski, Jason E. Owen, Saeed Abdullah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious public health concern. However, individuals with PTSD often do not have access to adequate treatment. A conversational agent (CA) can help to bridge the treatment gap by providing interactive and timely interventions at scale. Toward this goal, we have developed PTSDialogue-a CA to support the self-management of individuals living with PTSD. PTSDialogue is designed to be highly interactive (eg, brief questions, ability to specify preferences, and quick turn-taking) and supports social presence to promote user engagement and sustain adherence. It includes a range of support features, including psychoeducation, assessment tools, and several symptom management tools. Objective: This paper focuses on the preliminary evaluation of PTSDialogue from clinical experts. Given that PTSDialogue focuses on a vulnerable population, it is critical to establish its usability and acceptance with clinical experts before deployment. Expert feedback is also important to ensure user safety and effective risk management in CAs aiming to support individuals living with PTSD. Methods: We conducted remote, one-on-one, semistructured interviews with clinical experts (N=10) to gather insight into the use of CAs. All participants have completed their doctoral degrees and have prior experience in PTSD care. The web-based PTSDialogue prototype was then shared with the participant so that they could interact with different functionalities and features. We encouraged them to “think aloud” as they interacted with the prototype. Participants also shared their screens throughout the interaction session. A semistructured interview script was also used to gather insights and feedback from the participants. The sample size is consistent with that of prior works. We analyzed interview data using a qualitative interpretivist approach resulting in a bottom-up thematic analysis. Results: Our data establish the feasibility and acceptance of PTSDialogue, a supportive tool for individuals with PTSD. Most participants agreed that PTSDialogue could be useful for supporting self-management of individuals with PTSD. We have also assessed how features, functionalities, and interactions in PTSDialogue can support different self-management needs and strategies for this population. These data were then used to identify design requirements and guidelines for a CA aiming to support individuals with PTSD. Experts specifically noted the importance of empathetic and tailored CA interactions for effective PTSD self-management. They also suggested steps to ensure safe and engaging interactions with PTSDialogue. Conclusions: Based on interviews with experts, we have provided design recommendations for future CAs aiming to support vulnerable populations. The study suggests that well-designed CAs have the potential to reshape effective intervention delivery and help address the treatment gap in mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere45894
JournalJMIR Formative Research
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics

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