Toward a trustworthy voice: increasing the effectiveness of automated outreach calls to promote colorectal cancer screening among African Americans

Perm J. 2014 Spring;18(2):33-7. doi: 10.7812/TPP/13-139.


Introduction: Colorectal cancer screening rates are lower among African-American members of Kaiser Permanente Colorado (KPCO) than among members of other races and ethnicities. This study evaluated use of a linguistically congruent voice in interactive voice response outreach calls about colorectal cancer screening as a strategy to increase call completion and response.

Methods: After an initial discussion group to assess cultural acceptability of the project, 6 focus groups were conducted with 33 KPCO African-American members. Participants heard and discussed recordings of 5 female voices reading the same segment of the standard-practice colorectal cancer message using interactive voice response. The linguistic palette included the voices of a white woman, a lightly accented Latina, and 3 African-American women.

Results: Participants strongly preferred the African-American voices, particularly two voices. Participants considered these voices the most trustworthy and reported that they would be the most effective at increasing motivation to complete an automated call. Participants supported the use of African-American voices when designing outgoing automated calls for African Americans because the sense of familiarity engendered trust among listeners. Participants also indicated that effective automated messages should provide immediate clarity of purpose; explain why the issue is relevant to African Americans; avoid sounding scripted; emphasize that the call is for the listener's benefit only; sound personable, warm, and positive; and not create fear among listeners.

Discussion: Establishing linguistic congruence between African Americans and the voices used in automated calls designed to reach them may increase the effectiveness of outreach efforts.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • Aged
  • Automation
  • Colorado
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Communication*
  • Cultural Competency
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology*
  • Phonetics
  • Telephone
  • Trust*
  • Voice*
  • Whites