Voice assistants, such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, offer great opportunities in healthcare. Just some of the benefits are:

  • Convenience: It’s often much easier to ask or tell something than it is to open an app and key something in.
  • Empathy: Voice interactions just seem friendlier. In our testing of type 2 diabetes care plans people told us that the voice assistant seemed like she cared.
  • Natural: Most healthcare experiences are based on a conversation; voice avoids the barriers to communication that screens may introduce.
  • Cost effective: These devices deliver great experiences backed by artificial intelligence and are less than half the price of most smartphones.
  • Ubiquitous and unobtrusive: Amazon reports selling over 100 million voice devices1. Voice devices are small and they don’t interfere with other activities either in a patient room or at home.

Tips for New Voice Skills

Starting small is a great way to get started as you think about voice skills, for example:

  • Education: Quick hit voice interactions could be a great way to provide bursts of education direct from the manufacture on how, why, and when to take a specific medication.
  • Medication reminders and tracking: This is possibly the canonical example of the type of interactions people want to do with voice assistants. Providing a quick tip or educational tidbit with this skill might also be helpful. For example, “Remember to take your medication at the same time each day,” especially if you notice results are being recorded at different times.
  • Care plans: Wellness or disease-specific care plans can offer more support than just medication tracking alone. Tracking vitals, diet, or exercise might help people manage their health.

Once you’ve decided on a skill, also consider how people will discover your skill. Close to 50,000 healthcare skills are in the Alexa app store today, and voice search still isn’t great on identifying complex drug names. Consider all the alternative names and spellings of your product. For instance, when we were developing our skill for the Alexa Diabetes challenge, we included “mad foreman” as a positive hit for “metformin.” Also, think about whether your skill will connect a patient with a covered entity. Amazon has just announced HIPAA eligibility for Alexa, which will open up new opportunities but also new privacy considerations.

Finally, understand that while it may hold different promise, you shouldn’t treat voice as a separate channel. Ensure a consistent and usable experience no matter how people find or interact with your brand—voice is just a new powerful tool in your interaction arsenal.

References:

1. https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/04/more-than-100-million-alexa-devices-have-been-sold.

  • Anne Weiler

    Anne Weiler is CEO and Co-founder of Wellpepper, a clinically-validated platform for interactive treatment plans that help patients engage through mobile, web, and voice interfaces. Wellpepper is the winner of the 2017 Alexa Diabetes Challenge. Anne previously held global product management roles at Microsoft in new product development and emerging markets.

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