News Release

Using chatbots to advance Spanish-speaking patient outreach

Grant and Award Announcement

Huntsman Cancer Institute

Kim Kaphingst, ScD, director of cancer communication research at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of communications at the University of Utah


Kim Kaphingst, ScD, director of cancer communication research at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of communications at the University of Utah.

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Credit: Huntsman Cancer Institute

In her latest study, Kim Kaphingst, ScD, director of cancer communication research at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of communications at the University of Utah, is using chatbots to reach Spanish-speaking patients and teach them about genetic testing. 

The chatbots, computer programs that simulate conversation, give patients the same information they would get in an appointment with a genetic counselor to learn about genetic testing. This is done by using texted prompts, allowing for more flexibility and accessibility since patients can use this tool anywhere. If a patient meets the criteria for genetic testing, they can be offered testing through the genetic counseling team. 

And now, Kaphingst and her team have received additional funding from the National Cancer Institute for this specific project. “Our initial trial allowed us to develop and test the chatbot,” says Kaphingst. “This funding allows our team to reach a new population.” 

Kaphingst’s background in genetics and health communication has motivated her to find new ways to reach and educate patients. Her team of researchers include Crystal Lumpkins, Whitney Espinel, CGC, Wendy Kohlmann, MS, Guilherme Del Fiol, MD, PhD, FACMI, as well as Pete Taber, MSCI, PhD, from Biomedical Informatics.  

“It is important for people to know about their risk of cancer,” says Kaphingst. “As a cancer center, our goal is to effectively communicate this information to the public. There are many things individuals can do to reduce their risk, like early screening or preventative surgery. Our goal is to empower patients, ensuring they have the information necessary to make informed decisions about their health.” 

The new phase of this research will focus on Spanish-speaking women. According to Kaphingst, Spanish-speaking women are less likely to receive genetic testing services when compared to English-speaking patients. This means that patients with hereditary cancer risks, like hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, are less likely to be identified, which can lead to poorer health outcomes. 

“Our previous work has shown that about 25% to 30% of people who are eligible for genetic testing receive it,” says Kaphingst. “It is so important to address some of the inequities we see in the area we serve. It is really an important issue: making sure that everybody can access the services they need.” 

Huntsman Cancer Institute is home to many resources, including a patient navigation program specifically tailored for people who speak Spanish.  

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute including P30 CA042014 and Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The chatbots were developed in a recently completed trial funded by the Inherited Cancer Syndrome Collaborative of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative



About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah 

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) is the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. With a legacy of innovative cancer research, groundbreaking discoveries, and world-class patient care, we are transforming the way cancer is understood, prevented, diagnosed, treated, and survived. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering a cancer-free frontier to all communities in the area we serve. We have more than 300 open clinical trials and 250 research teams studying cancer at any given time. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Our scientists are world-renowned for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.  

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