Alexa can order your groceries, hail you a ride and tell you how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon (it’s three).
Now, the Amazon virtual assistant can also give you medical advice and look up and recite clinical information.
Just as consumers are turning to voice-activated virtual assistants for tasks they previously performed on smartphones, healthcare providers and patients alike are beginning to do the same using devices from Amazon, Google and others that respond to a human voice.
Information from WebMD, for example, is available via Alexa, as is medical advice from Healthtap’s Doctor A.I. Another tool, called One Drop, lets diabetes patients track their blood sugar information by telling it to Alexa.
Other pilot programs, run by hospitals, are in place so patients can ask Alexa questions about their health and providers can ask the digital assistant questions about protocols and other clinical information.
Although technological and HIPAA-related hurdles lie ahead, those types of changes stand to transform the way we interact with health information, making it more accessible and less onerous to use.
Now, with the tech industry singing the praises of voice as the next best interface, healthcare is joining the chorus as providers seek to boost patient engagement and reduce their administrative burden through the use of artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistants.
“Where we think it’s going to have its ultimate great power is in the home,” said Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who sees Alexa as a tool that can help keep patients engaged and informed. “We want to keep you healthy in your home because we’ll be paid for outcomes and quality.”
Because Alexa is already a consumer tool used in an estimated 8 million households, the promise for virtual assistants is huge.
“It’s pretty darn likely that our grandkids will laugh at us for ever using a keyboard,” said Ben Greenberg, WebMD’s vice president of mobile products and user experience. “Speech is such a more natural, hands-free, convenient and faster way to communicate.”
WebMD is banking on that being the case. The company has developed an Alexa “skill”—the name Amazon has given to what is essentially a voice app—to deliver some of its web content via voice in response to questions consumers ask their Alexa-enabled devices. Virtual assistants are expected to be adopted in healthcare because of their ability to offer interactions that feel natural, and they don’t demand adopting an entirely new workflow because it’s the same one used for talking to people.
Image Credit: Amazon