Voice assistants being heard in hospitals

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Voice assistants being heard in hospitals

Voice assistants such as Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google Home have become hugely popular consumer devices in the past few years, with sales more than doubling year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017.
But voice assistants, or smart speakers, also are finding their way into healthcare, following the migration path of other digital consumer devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
“When we went from laptops to smartphones as our primary means of doing computing, that was a major paradigm shift,” John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), tells Healthcare IT News managing editor Bill Siwicki. “Ambient listening tools probably will replace mobile devices.”  
In his article, Siwicki offers an in-depth look at how healthcare providers already are using voice assistants to better coordinate care, empower patients, and improve efficiency.
BIDMC, for example, is using Alexa application programming interfaces (APIs) to build “skills” for the voice assistant that can be used to help patients get information and request help much more efficiently than the archaic systems still used today by many hospitals.
“Today, you pull a cord installed in 1955 that flips a relay that turns on a light that means a nurse might be there in 10 minutes,” Halamka said. “Even modern nurse call systems still are very reminiscent of things that would have been in hospital rooms in the 1950s.”
A programmed in-room voice assistant, in contrast, can instantly respond to a patient’s verbal instruction to notify a nurse or provide the patient with instructions on dietary guidelines, activity restrictions, and other useful information.
New York-based Northwell Health, meanwhile, is using Alexa to help people determine the wait times at emergency rooms and urgent care centers near their location.
And Libertana Home Health in California has conducted a successful pilot study that shows that voice assistants in the home can help older clients and those with restricted movement.
“The client with shingles whose pain makes moving unthinkable can use her voice to play music, relax and stay comfortable,” Debra Harrison, RN, tells Siwicki. “The use of cognitive games makes the clients think and laugh, the ability to set a timer, ask for directions, and hear a response makes them feel less isolated.”
You can read more examples of how providers are using voice assistants, as well as advice on how to get started with voice assistants, in Siwicki’s article.