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Dr. Alexa Will See You Now

The rise of voice-based devices in healthcare

Just as consumers are getting comfortable asking Alexa to play their favorite songs, order pizza, and provide driving directions, the use of digital assistant technology is building in healthcare. From answering basic healthcare questions, providing appointment or therapy reminders, to monitoring vitals like blood pressure, the use of smart voice technology is helping streamline patient care while ushering in a new era of governance.

Answers On Demand
Hands-free help can be vital if you’re injured or unable to pick up a phone. Three of the most prevalent health-related assistants that are enabled through a smart speaker device like Amazon’s Alexa are Cigna’s “Answers by Cigna 2,” Mayo Clinic’s “Mayo Clinic First Aid 3,” and Orbita’s “Voice Experience Designer.” These technologies make it possible for patients to ask about symptoms, treatments, and general insurance questions.

Cigna’s application provides on-demand answers to 150 commonly-asked healthcare questions. It is also designed to promote health literacy by enabling clients to ask about insurance and their specific coverage. (After a survey, the firm found that 20 percent and 66 percent of respondents didn’t understand certain terms, such as “premium” or “formulary,” according to Cigna.) 

Mayo Clinic’s app provides instructions for everyday self-care (treating a wound or fever, etc.) and gives answers to common medical questions. Orbita’s tool empowers a healthcare entity to write its own application that is then deployed via a smart speaker device.

All of these applications have a common goal: to provide a more personalized patient while streamlining wait times, reducing information clutter, and eliminating stress. 

Accuracy of Information 
Today, most patients are familiar with automated calls, that voice on the line when you’re asked what department you need, if you’d like to make an appointment, if you want the nurse’s line, or if you want to fill a prescription. This automation saves patients time – and can save providers about $.30 per call.

But just how conversational will these technology become? It’s a wait-and-see scenario.

One of the biggest obstacles to voice technology is accuracy of information. What if the app can’t understand the patient and delivers incorrect information? Or what if the data is outdated and the resulting answer is wrong? The burden of delivering the right information to the right patient at the right time falls on the company behind the app.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will never fully replace human interaction, but like any technology, its design and function will innovate with the times. And as more people warm to the benefits of voice-activated devices, its usage in healthcare is poised to pick up. 

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