Verywell’s new tool helps navigate heated debates around vaccines

With measles outbreaks the US, many are talking about vaccination, and the conversations can quickly become heated arguments.

However, health website Verywell has developed a tool, called Healthy Conversations, to assist navigate hotly debated issues such as vaccination. The tool can guide readers through a fictional conversation with a friend or partner using an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure method.

The tool starts off with a doozy, with the virtual friend or partner saying, “So, I’m not sure I want to vaccinate our child.” Users can then choose from three responses, ranging from the more combative, “that’s completely crazy!” to the probing, “OK, why would you think that?”

Depending on the response, readers get feedback from the tool, either telling them they made the right or wrong choice and why.

“It’s not just throwing information at the user and letting them fend for themselves,” said Rob Parisi, SVP and GM at Verywell. “We want to help people learn and coach them through things. We view this conversation coach as another feature that goes beyond simple article text to help people through a pain point that many are experiencing.”

The current U.S. outbreak is one of the largest since measles was eliminated in 2000, with 555 confirmed cases. The prevalence of vaccine misinformation online has been partially to blame for the increase in parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

To determine how people want to talk about vaccines, Verywell surveyed 1,000 people before launching the conversation tool. It found that vaccines were the No. 1 area of disagreement between friends, beating out smoking, opioids, medical marijuana and other issues.

The survey also found that 65% of people had no success when trying to persuade someone else about vaccines. Nearly half said presenting the other party with facts was actually a negative to the conversation.

“That led us into breaking it into two parts: talking from an informed, educated position where you know the science and trying to communicate with the person in a way that’s not going to devolve into conflict or awkwardness or have that other person shut down,” Parisi said. “It’s not enough for you to have a conversation about vaccines just knowing that it’s the right thing to do, but you also need to be able to communicate with them in a certain way.”

The tool resembles a messaging app, with chat bubbles and three dots to indicate typing. Developed with the help of a psychologist, the tool touches on common points that anti-vaxxers or vaccine sceptics make, such as the debunked link to autism or fears about injecting a virus, even a dead one, into their children.

The goal of the conversation is for both sides to agree on the need to speak with a doctor about vaccines. Once users finish the conversation, they can download the script or a doctor-discussion guide to move the virtual conversation to action.

This is the first conversation coach that Verywell has made, but the website is looking to develop others for contentious health topics.

“So much of pharma marketing is directed toward the point of care, and this is the first step,” Parisi said. “If these conversations aren’t happening [between friends or partners], then people aren’t even getting to the point of care. People have to not be afraid of the awkwardness or potential conflict of bringing up a topic like this, and to not have these conversations is a terrible thing. When they do happen, then it’s almost a precursor to [a conversation with a doctor at] the point of care.”

Source: MMM Online