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Bringing Voice Services to the Patient Bedside

Visitors to Boston Children’s Hospital might notice a familiar accessory on some ICU charge nurse stations and mobile computer carts: Alexa-enabled Amazon devices. The institution has pioneered work with the voice service, including developing the first health skill on the device.

The KidsMD Alexa skill was created to give parents a resource and decision-support tool for questions related to their child’s fever or other symptoms. Matt Murphy, innovation lead at Boston Children’s Hospital Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator, described the effort as a collaboration between technologists—software developers and machine learning experts—and clinicians.

“Parents ask a question, it calls our system, and our system responds back with data and symptom information that is read off to the parent,” Murphy explained.

KidsMD is just the start of the hospital’s interest in voice platforms. Murphy’s team is developing skills with the Alexa voice service for use inside the hospital, too. “The nice thing is that it’s such a flexible platform that we’re doing a lot of work independently within the enterprise,” Murphy said. “Alexa, for us, is more about leveraging this initial platform as a way to experiment with voice more broadly in the hospital setting.”

Boston Children’s is including a variety of stakeholders in the process of developing these applications. Patients, parents, social works, clinicians, and others were part of a hackathon in late 2016 to develop voice service skills for the hospital environment. One such skill was intended to assist parents who care for children with peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines, instructing them in each step of cleaning the PICC line, changing medications, and addressing simple problems at home.

By Marie Thibault | MD&DI

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