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Researchers use chatbots to help Spanish-speaking patients get genetic testing

More than 25 million people in the U.S. have limited English proficiency — a hindrance to accessing effective health care.

Now, cancer-communication researchers are working to lower that barrier using Spanish-speaking chatbots.

Limited English proficiency inhibits everything from acquiring benefits to grasping doctors’ directions. It may also partly explain why only 25-30% of eligible people receive genetic testing, which can help to pin down hereditary cancer risks.

But a National Cancer Institute-funded program at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute hopes to raise that percentage through a Spanish-speaking chatbot (a computer program that simulates texted conversation) that explains genetic testing and refers qualified patients to a genetic counseling team.

The new phase of the project will focus on underserved Spanish-speaking women to try to catch more potential cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.