Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services are undergoing a digital transformation. This study explored the acceptability of three digital services, (i) video consultations via Skype, (ii) live webchats with a health advisor and (iii) artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chatbots, as potential platforms for SRH advice.
A pencil-and-paper 33-item survey was distributed in three clinics in Hampshire, UK for patients attending SRH services. Logistic regressions were performed to identify the correlates of acceptability.
In total, 257 patients (57% women, 50% aged <25 years) completed the survey. As the first point of contact, 70% preferred face-to-face consultations, 17% telephone consultation, 10% webchats and 3% video consultations. Most would be willing to use video consultations (58%) and webchat facilities (73%) for ongoing care, but only 40% found AI chatbots acceptable. Younger age (<25 years) (OR 2.43, 95% CI 1.35 to 4.38), White ethnicity (OR 2.87, 95% CI 1.30 to 6.34), past sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosis (OR 2.05, 95% CI 1.07 to 3.95), self-reported STI symptoms (OR 0.58, 95% CI 0.34 to 0.97), smartphone ownership (OR 16.0, 95% CI 3.64 to 70.5) and the preference for a SRH smartphone application (OR 1.95, 95% CI 1.13 to 3.35) were associated with video consultations, webchats or chatbots acceptability.
Although video consultations and webchat services appear acceptable, there is currently little support for SRH chatbots. The findings demonstrate a preference for human interaction in SRH services. Policymakers and intervention developers need to ensure that digital transformation is not only cost-effective but also acceptable to users, easily accessible and equitable to all populations using SRH services.