Meet Jill, CSHP’s newest ‘employee’

SmallBizCodeBabyCCIn the rapidly evolving space of online self-service, the ever-more-sophisticated consumer continues to demand a well-developed product.

Health care providers are more often requiring their patients to use online tools to help them better understand their health and to make them take greater ownership of their own health and lifestyle.

Enter CodeBaby, an online animated avatar who will help consumers navigate the often-confusing world of health care.

Based in Colorado Springs, and with an engineering office in Edmonton, Canada, CodeBaby recently signed a contract to provide this service to Colorado Springs Health Partners, one of the leading health care providers in the city.

For CSHP, still in the early stages of integrating CodeBaby, it was finances and other factors that prompted their decision to use the service, said CodeBaby Chief Executive Officer Dennis McGuire.

“CSHP will earn money from the federal government based on the amount of meaningful use they derive,” from the patients, McGuire said. “It’s a financial motivator to really get patients more involved in their health care.”

From Colorado Springs Health Partners

“According to the government, we have to meet meaningful use requirements in order to receive grant money to run our business,” said Beth O’Brien, marketing manager and graphic designer for CSHP. “We start counting the number of patients using this portal July 1.”

The “meaningful use requirements” include an update of the demographics, information on insurance and the use of online prescription refilling.

Their avatar’s name is Jill, and she is “as ethnically neutral an avatar as we could come up with,” O’Brien said. In her mid to late 30s, Jill could be accessing health care for herself, her children or her aging parents. Jill has a soft deadline to “go live” July 18.

“We’re excited about it,” said O’Brien.

CSHP came up with the script, and CodeBaby is illustrating the questions and electronic flow chart to direct the dialogue.

Jill will ask, “Have you signed up?” and based on the answer yes or no, she’ll direct the conversation in the appropriate direction.

CSHP already has a patient portal, which offers an initial walk-through introduction.

“But the avatar brings a whole other personal interaction, where we can get specific in a friendly way,” O’Brien said. “Making the patient comfortable enough to answer specific questions.”

SmallBizCSHPAvatar-cutoutBuilding the illustrated, active avatar

Graphic designers begin with a skeleton, then add girth and clothing with the styles, colors and apparel accents requested by the customer, McGuire said.

“We create a library of characters — 70 to 80 characters,” McGuire said. “We can change the hair. We can put on a bracelet, scarf – whatever the customer wants.”

From there, designers will create hundreds of 15- to 20-second conversational elements in video form, made more lifelike by adding the tiniest motion of the eyebrows and larger movements, like the avatar pointing or motioning with her arm.

The scripts are derived from customer input, then, using voice actors, CodeBaby creates the conversational elements.

“When a customer says, ‘Tell me more about a health savings account,’ that branches to a whole new flow,” McGuire said. “We map out this flow.”

Avatars have bigger eyes for a reason

CodeBaby has conducted research on human behavior when “communicating” with online tools.

“Our character eyes are about 20 percent bigger than human eyes because eyes are where we make connections,” McGuire said. “Subtleties in how our forehead moves or our eyebrows move drives the engagement.”

Ultimately, it will be less expensive for CSHP and other medical clients to offer the public another avatar, one that will serve as a nurse. This avatar will be able to answer simpler medical questions, leaving human nurses to focus on more technical cases.

“The virtual nurse costs virtually no money to focus on the low-value communication, allowing the human nurse to really focus on the high-value communication,” McGuire said.

“We are a strategy company to help create new solutions, based on the business problems presented to us.

“How we do it is our secret sauce,” McGuire said.

Reached by telephone, human customer service representatives may not deliver the full message or may develop a personality conflict with the caller. Or the person “may be having a bad day.”

Using an avatar, “You get a consistent message delivered time after time,” McGuire said.

The voice has consistent empathy when dealing with sensitive health care issues, or encouraging when filling out a form.

“There’s a whole science behind matching the emotions online,” he said. “For a video that can go on for 50 hours.”


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Number of employees: 35

In business: Since 2001