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Voice: The most natural user interface for healthcare

There’s so much promise, and such a natural fit for voice in healthcare that unlike electronic medical records, we should not have to mandate its use. If anything, right now we are being limited by the lack of HIPAA controls rather than end-user demand. If the sessions at the recent Voice Summit, which was focused broadly on voice tech, and the upcoming Voice of Healthcare and Voice Summit at Connected Health conferences are any indication, there are many natural use cases, and a lot of pent-up demand.

With so many concerns about documentation and screens getting between patients and physicians, and the ability to deliver empathy, and to rapidly learn from interactions using natural language processing, and artificial intelligence, voice seems a natural fit and unobtrusive interface that could leapfrog traditional interfaces.

The Healthcare track at Voice Summit showed some of this promise, but also pointed out that we are still early days. Many solutions are pilots or prototypes, and I had the distinct impression that some of today’s HIPAA workarounds would not stand up to a detailed audit. Despite Alexa’s sponsorship of the conference, Google’s strong presence, and both companies push into all things healthcare, both were mum on whether or when their consumer voice devices might be HIPAA compliant. Regardless, healthcare organizations and technology vendors alike are charging forward on new scenarios for healthcare, and you can see by the diversity that if even a few of these end up being the “killer app” it’s a big opportunity.

Patient Care

Rooming: Waiting for a physician to see you in an exam room is often a wasted opportunity. A voice interface in the clinic room, could help further pinpoint why a patient is having a visit or educate pre and post visit on medical issues. Or simply having a voice assistant capture the questions that a patient has during a visit might go a long way to improving the visit.

Inpatient stay: The combination of voice assistants, wifi, and tablets could completely replace expensive and proprietary systems for inpatient patient engagement. We’re already seeing use cases for anonymous interactions with voice devices to order food, check the time, or find out the time of the next physician visit.

Long-term care: Alzheimers and dementia care are cited as the poster child for the benefits of voice in long-term care facilities. Unlike human caregivers, voice assistants never get tired of answering the same questions repeatedly. There are so many times you don’t want Saturday Night Live to predict the future, but with this one they got it right.

Patient Engagement

If we define patient engagement as interactions outside the clinic, then the opportunities today fall into three main categories triage (or eventually diagnosis), education, and self-management.

Triage Skills: Today we see some basic triage skills from organizations like Mayo Clinic, and Boston Children’s Hospital where you can check some basic first aid, or ask common questions about children’s health. While there are approximately 1,000 healthcare skills, most likely there will be a few winners or “go-to” experiences here from leading healthcare organization or trusted publishers like WebMD. (Interestingly, the presenter from WebMD was one of the more skeptical on voice experiences for patients at the Voice Summit, possibly because of the complexity of the information they present through text, video, and images on the Web.)

Health Education: Chunking content into manageable bites is currently being touted as the best practice for education material through voice. However, this is an area where the interactivity that’s possible through voice will be necessary for stickiness. If you think about the best podcasts, they use different techniques to both engage you and also impart knowledge: interviewing, verbatim quotes, sound effects, interjections, and expository material. To get engaging and sticky health education content, publishers will have to think about how to test for knowledge, advance explanations, and interact with the end-users. Since we can only remember 5 things at a time, simply chunking content is not going to be enough to make the delivery of health education through voice stick.

Reminders and Interactive Health Tasks: As we’ve seen from our testing, where voice interfaces may have the most impact for patients is in helping them complete health tasks for example, in medication adherence, simple surveys, or check-ins and reminders of basic information. Given that the voice interface is a natural in the home, checking in with a voice assistance on when to take medication, or tracking meals is an easy way to engage with a care plan. As well, cloud-based interactive voice response systems could call patients with reminders and check-ins.

Clinical Notes

Conquering the pain of charting is possibly the closest term opportunity for voice in healthcare. With every increasing workloads, and the need to capture information digitally for both care and reimbursement, the EMR has been blamed for physician burnout and lack of job satisfaction. Microsoft recently partnered with UPMC to use their Cortana voice assistant to transcribe clinical notes during a patient/provider interaction. Others attacking this space include SayKara, Robin, and incumbent, Nuance Communications. With HIPAA compliance, it’s hard not to imagine Amazon and Google looking at it as well.

Hands-free lookup

Voice really shines as an interface when your hands are not free, like driving, dentistry, or when you need to keep your hands clean. Voice is a natural in settings where touching a screen or device can cause contamination or distraction. Simplifeye is tackling this in dentistry to improve charting, and lookup of x-rays, and we expect this to infiltrate all aspects of healthcare.

You may have seen a recent article on why Alexa is not ready for healthcare primetime. With all of these great examples it’s hard to believe it. It turns out that the criticisms in this article basically highlight the current limitations of voice overall (except for HIPAA compliance of course). However, some of the challenges of discovery, context, and navigation, are why we at Wellpepper believe in not just voice, but a “Voice And” future where voice is a key interface that is helped or helps others like screens or even augmented reality. Voice is powerful, “Voice And” will be even better.

Posted in: Behavior Change, chronic disease, HIPAA, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction, patient-generated data, Voice

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