Dra. Marie Michelle Dado, OB-GYNE and administrator of Pillowtalk with Doc Mitch Dado, admitted that patients turn to the internet more when getting information on sex, reproductive health, and contraception. According to a study she conducted, 83 percent search the web, 42 percent ask friends, and only 25 percent go to their doctors.
Because Filipinos are the top social media users in the world (75 million are on Facebook alone), many doctors are concerned of misinformation from unverified sources online. However, Dra. Dado said, “For me, it’s easier to talk to my patients [when they research about contraception and other concerns] online because at least they’re empowered with information.”
So to address this, pharmaceutical company Bayer developed an AI chatbot for Filipinos called Ask Mara. Similar to its Malaysian older sister Ask Maya, this chatbot responds to queries about the types of contraceptives, the most effective ways to use them, and even has a reminder alert for women on the pill.
We got to know Ask Mara a little bit during its launch yesterday, and we’re giving you the pros and cons on some of its features.
Cons: At the moment, Ask Mara can only recognize English messages and cannot respond to Tagalog and other Filipino dialects. Michelle Lamar, communications lead of Bayer, said the chatbot “is still a ‘baby chatbot’ that’s learning every day” and can eventually pick up Filipino words in the long run. However, it will still respond in English, which might be difficult for those who aren’t well-versed in the language. Also, Mara doesn’t have a voice response yet, which can be a downside for visually impaired netizens.
Pros: As mentioned, Ask Mara would provide links to resources on contraceptive products and methods, as well as educational readings on reproductive health. I tested out the “Find Out More” option for intrauterine devices (IUDs) and she immediately gave me fast facts about it. I also tried typing “Find out more about vasectomy” to see if she’ll pick it up and if Ask Mara also caters to men’s contraceptive options aside from condoms. I’m happy to report that she does have information on that too.
Another great feature from Ask Mara is the pill reminder. According to Lamar, you just need to input if you’re using a 21-day or 28-day pill, and the time you’re supposed to take one. Mara will save this information and will alert you via Facebook Messenger every day.
Cons: Since Ask Mara was developed by Bayer, it’s not programmed to give out names of contraceptives, especially if they’re not under the company. This isn’t really a big con TBH since it’s still important to ask your doctor what can work for you. (Remember: Not all contraceptives are the same and they have different side effects depending on the user.) Just thought you should know.
Ask Mara also doesn’t have a geotag option which can tell you where you can buy contraceptives. Lamar told us that, ideally, a doctor’s prescription is required when buying birth control pills and that they don’t recommend “emergency pills.” But she also said that if more people ask Mara about places to get contraceptives, they can explore the possibility of adding the geotag feature.
Pros: Anyone with a Facebook account can access Ask Mara. It’s a safe space where you can ask about sex, reproductive health, and contraceptives. Also, you’re not required to give out personal information like your name and address. The most she will ask for is your email address for certain queries that need professional help.
Cons: One concern that was raised was if Ask Mara was age-restricted, which is not. Let’s be real here: Facebook does ask you if you’re 13 and older when you register, but there are still kids who lie about their age so they can have an account. If you ask us, it’s important to expose the youth to sex education, especially with the rising adolescent pregnancy rates in the Philippines. But since many Filipinos are still conservative and feel like their kids aren’t ready for that conversation, they might prohibit minors from accessing Ask Mara—and we don’t blame them, really.
If you’re a parent who doesn’t mind educating your kids on contraceptives and reproductive health, then that’s great!
Remember that Ask Mara can’t replace professional opinion. The AI chatbot is just there to educate and guide you on the contraceptives available in the Philippines. If you are unsure and Mara can’t give the answers, visit your OB-GYNE.
Photo courtesy of Amplab
Screengrabs by Jacqueline Arias
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