It’s no surprise that the Amazon Echo continues to gain traction in the healthcare space. As we described last year, a variety of healthcare providers, device manufacturers and publishers are already coming to market with customized “skills” for the Echo, providing virtual care through highly responsive voice-driven health and fitness experiences.
At HIMSS17, this trend continued as Lenovo debuted a new Alexa skill aimed at linking home healthcare support with local health systems. Tom Foley, director of worldwide health solutions strategy at Lenovo explained the strategy behind their offering. “This has to do with expanding the use of virtual care. Our intelligent assistant platform combines Amazon’s Alexa with our own platform. We took Alexa and applied it to healthcare and we allow a patient to speak to Alexa to communicate with his or her care team. For example, ‘Hey, Alexa, can you tell my care coordinator I need a driver to pick me up.’ Or, ‘I need a prescription refilled.’ We’re expanding on the intelligent home to create an intelligent medical home.”
The impact of this type of voice-driven support for at home care has great potential as Foley elaborated, “I can say, ‘Hey, Alexa, take my blood pressure,’ and that can be recorded very easily. It gets stored locally and can be sent to the health team. So that involves the whole virtual encounter, the telehealth scenario. You may need to be seen by a doctor, but you do not have to go to the doctor. Virtual care anywhere is a big theme for us.”
HealthTap, which provides 24/7 immediate access to top doctors via video, text, and voice has also recently launched new skill for Alexa called Doctor A.I. The voice-driven app provides real time feedback on basic patient symptoms, and if the algorithm determines the situation is serious enough, it connects the patient with one of HealthTap’s 100,000 online physicians, allowing the patient to speak with a live physician, and schedule an appointment if necessary. Not surprisingly, HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman sees incredible potential for the new app. “The connection between Dr. A.I. and Alexa was digital love at first sight. Voice-activated interfaces create the kind of human-computer, connection that we need to unlock the huge potential that exists in augmenting human decision making in healthcare with artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. With this revolutionary release of Dr. A.I. & Alexa our top engineers, designers, and data scientists are making a huge leap forward in bringing better care at a lower cost to billions of people worldwide.”
Another early adapter in the voice-driven health space is Boston Children’s Hospital where their Digital Health Accelerator team created a voice-driven skill called KidsMD. This skill will answer questions about symptoms, dosing, and whether or not to reach out to an HCP. Jared Hawkins, Director of Informatics at Boston Children’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator, comments that “in the future we envision Alexa-enabled devices being a central point for the public to verbally interact with all of the educational content developed at Boston Children’s Hospital.”
Dr. Alexa is rapidly expanding her virtual care, and what seemed like science fiction just last year is now on the way to becoming a powerful mainstream tool for helping patients navigate complicated healthcare information. While she won’t be replacing your local primary care physician anytime soon, Dr. Alexa will soon be making house calls in your neighborhood!