Ask Alexa and receive … healthcare?

Alexa, Amazon’s electronic personal assistant, was the gift of the year in 2016.

When it first gained popularity, I was a bit skeptical, thinking to myself: “A device that sits in the background listening to all of my conversations and interjecting where it deems appropriate? Will Alexa be silently judging me? Because if I wanted that, I would have moved in with my parents.”

Recently at a dinner party, the gracious hostess could not remember how long dinner needed to be in the oven, or the temperature setting. (To be honest, she may have even needed to verify the ingredients in the dish, but I digress.)

So she asked Alexa.

Immediately, she had her answer. She didn’t even have to wash her hands, pick up her phone and Google it. It was so effortless to get the information she needed that the lightbulb went on for me: How can this technology be used in healthcare?

This sentiment was echoed during our annual healthcare advisory council meetings as well.

Great minds think alike

One online search later, I realized I am not alone in wondering about healthcare-specific Alexa apps, or “skills” as they are called. A Seattle startup, SayKara, is working on developing an Alexa-like device for virtual medical scribes.

“The goal is to accurately transcribe audio to text, parse the information to make it structured and insert it cleanly into an electronic health record,” according to Karl Kaufmann, an emergency room physician at Valley Medical Center working with SayKara to test the virtual medical scribe.

While SayKara is still in development, other hospitals have developed skills (a.k.a., apps) for use with Alexa. For example, Carolinas HealthCare System has developed a skill so patients can use Alexa to identify nearby urgent care and emergency departments as well as learn wait time information.

And the Mayo Clinic has built first-aid skills into Alexa.

All users have to say is, “Alexa, open Mayo first-aid” to access topics such as care instructions and common mishaps.

Web-MD has also developed a skill.

Innovation

Skills developed to date are the tip of the iceberg of what is possible, but these pioneers have opened our eyes to new ways of interacting with technology – which is much needed in the ever-changing healthcare space. I expect the momentum to continue with more healthcare organizations developing skills for health and wellness initiatives.

Here’s a quick scenario: A parent asks Alexa how to tell if a cut needs stitches and Alexa not only provides the answer based on the skills learned, but also asks if the user wants to include Band-Aids and antiseptic ointment on their shopping list. Or, maybe Alexa could remind us of our upcoming health appointments and even prompt us to fill out pre-admission documentation and obtain the necessary insurance authorizations.

The opportunities are endless:

  • Alexa … When was my last dentist appointment?
  • Alexa … When am I supposed to take my next dose of medication?
  • Alexa … Inform my home health assistant that I need groceries.

But, until Alexa becomes part of the healthcare space, we’ll continue to ask it to provide us with other valuable information like weather reports, recipe directions and music playlists.

And, I’ll continue to hope she is not silently judging me while doing so.

Laura Pietromica

Laura Pietromica

Working in the healthcare field for more than 16 years, Laura Pietromica has spent the past nine years with Hyland’s Healthcare division. Prior to joining Hyland, Laura was the lead system administrator responsible for overseeing the software platform used in all endoscopy departments at a large multidisciplinary academic medical center in the USA. Since joining Hyland, Laura shares her time working with customers to strategically plan projects, consult and develop long-term solution roadmaps. Laura has a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication from Ohio University is a HIMSS Analytics certified EMR Adoption Model educator and holds certificates in Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+) and Enterprise Content Management Practitioner (ECMp).

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