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Largest STD clinic uses voice technology to battle AIDS.

The Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Program is using sophisticated voice processing technology in its battle against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, to set up a telephone information and referral service.

With 29 STD clinics handling more than 100,000 visits annually, the L.A. County STD Program oversees the largest system of this type in the U.S.

To manage such a high volume, health officials have turned to the Hello! voice processing system from Atlanta-based Enhanced Systems which uses two Dialogic Corp. (Parisppany, N.J.) D/41D four-channel voice boards. The board is a digital signal processor (DSP)-based, PC-compatible voice store-and-forward product.

The system, called the "STD InfoLine," has three components: an audiotex application, a referral service and a data collection facility.


In addition to routine information, such as clinic or test-site location and operating hours, callers are able to receive detailed information on numerous STD-related topics. Callers select from a range of topics, including updated STD clinic and STD/HIV disease information, preventive practices, and current medical procedures, simply by pressing keys on their touchtone telephone.

The system responds by playing prerecorded information that corresponds to the caller's selections. County officials are working with Enhanced Systems in developing the audiotex information. Dr. Gary Richwald says the information used by the system is being geared to meet the specific needs of low-income and low-literacy callers, a segment of the population that he feels has received inadequate attention in the past.

County health officials are also taking advantage of the systems' multi-lingual capabilities to better serve the county's Hispanic population. Callers will have the option of hearing information in either English or Spanish.

With a single phone call, county residents access information on both traditional STDs, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, and newer STDs, including HIV infection. Other area programs provide this type of service, but rarely offer information on both topics through the same phone line. During normal business hours, callers without touchtone service or those desiring to speak directly with a staff member will be able to transfer to an STD Program representative for assistance.

"The control and prevention of STDs, including HIV, rely on access to accurate disease and clinic information," says Dr. Richwald, who believes the automated service will be an effective means of providing county residents with this kind of information.

Clinic referrals

Residents seeking an STD clinic or HIV test site will be asked to enter the first three digits of their phone number or other type of identifying information such as a zip code. With this information, the system can determine which medical or test facility is located closet to the caller. The system then can provide the caller with that clinic's address, telephone number, hours of operation, and detailed directions for reaching the facility.

Dr. Richwald stresses the anonymous nature of the new telephone service as one advantage of using the Hello! system.

"People can get a referral for a clinic without having to identify themselves, which is a very real concern for many individuals. Using an automated telephone service is one of the best ways we can maintain their anonymity," says Dr. Richwald. He also believes the anonymity of the service will encourage callers to obtain information on topics that they might be too embarrassed to discuss with a staff member.

Data collection

In order to more efficiently gather statistical data, county officials are planning to incorporate Enhanced Systems Telentry automated survey software module into their service. Telentry II can conduct telephone interviews, surveys and questionnaires without involving staff members, and without identifying the respondent. Telentry II asks a question then instructs the caller to give a spoken response or to press a key on the telephone to register a response.

The module records the responses and provides the results in customized reports.

The information will help staff members gauge levels of information awareness among county residents and provide valuable feedback on the overall effectiveness of the telephone service.

The automated phone service is designed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dr. Richwald believes this will help alleviate many of the problems encountered by other programs in the Los Angeles area, including frequent busy signals, limited service hours, and minimal assistance to non-English speaking, low income or low literacy callers.

"We have a wealth of valuable information available to the community. But it's useless unless we can offer it to county residents in a form they will find useful and easy to use. An automated telephone service is one of the most cost-effective means of accomplishing that end," Dr. Richwald says.

Dialogic technology also plays a pivotal role in the National Cancer Institute's CancerFax, an automated fax-on-demand system that provides callers with a list of cancers and information on prognosis, staging (degree of spread), and current treatments. Users can access this system from any fax machine.
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Title Annotation:Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1993
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