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Five ways a healthcare virtual assistant can improve patient engagement

Voice-based virtual assistants such as Cortana and Alexa can be used to set medication and appointment reminders, or as a patient education tool.

Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana have successfully made voice-enabled devices popular with smartphone users, including healthcare professionals and patients. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), these voice assistants are able to interact with users and help them with day-to-day tasks. As the technology begins to find its way into the homes of consumers through voice-based assistant devices, vendors are exploring the different capabilities and features that can benefit patients and healthcare professionals.

It is not uncommon for technology enthusiasts to equip their homes with voice-enabled devices like Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot. These standalone gadgets have become home virtual assistants that use voice commands to turn lights on or off, play music, set reminders or reorder home supplies. Now along with the Echo, Google has released its own home automation and voice-based assistant, adding another option for consumers who want powerful and inexpensive tech gadgets.

The big question for many in healthcare is how this technology can drive patient engagement. Here are five uses for a healthcare virtual assistant.

Patient reminders at home

The ability to remind patients about their medication is a critical function. Medication adherence is one area that physicians recognize is challenging to enforce. A healthcare virtual assistant can verbally notify and interact with patients when it's time to take their medication. There are also additional reminders that can be delivered through the interactive system. For example, patients suffering from diabetes can benefit from friendly reminders to check glucose levels. Reminders can be set up by a provider or the patient through an app. The healthcare virtual assistant offers a friendly voice patients are familiar with that provides a way to keep up with tasks and reminders that are relevant to their health.

Data collection capabilities

In the past, providers looking to collect specific data at a certain frequency from their patient relied on paper, home computers or mobile devices to capture it. The new voice-based devices have the ability to capture data simply by interacting with patients verbally. Platforms such as Voice Experience Designer by Orbita are already on their way to showcase those capabilities how they can interact with patients using the Echo Dot at HIMSS17. Orbita recognized that physicians and hospitals frequently need to survey patients when at home, and built a tool that allows them to create any set of questionnaires to interact with the patient 24/7 and collect the necessary data from them.

A constantly evolving system with integration capabilities

Beyond the abilities of processing voice requests and responding to voice commands, voice-based assistants have the ability to interact with other third-party platforms to perform different tasks and pull data from. This allows it to be the central hub for interacting with a number of different devices and systems, as well as a common interface for the patients.

A health assessment tool at home

Another area of impact would be around performing different health assessments at home and triggering specific events based on the findings. The results of such assessments may be directing patients to the nearest emergency room, or simply writing a note that is sent to their primary care physician. Hospitals can use these assessments to monitor patients who have recently been discharged. The healthcare virtual assistant can interact with the patients at certain intervals, assess their condition and identify if anything raises concerns that they may be at risk.

A patient education tool

The voice-based device can also turn into an instruction manual or patient education library. It can deliver educational content to patients based on their condition or answer questions they may have. Patients can also inquire about symptoms of certain health illnesses from the digital assistant.

While these home tech gadgets have been widely adopted for smart home automations, healthcare is going to consider these voice-based assistants as an option to support patient engagement initiatives. These devices offer a human-like interaction and are able to be personalized to the individual. But Alexa, Cortana, and other AI voice assistants all have one common threat and weakness -- their dependence on internet connectivity. These devices may one day have their own built in cellular signal so they are less dependent on the home connectivity, but until then, we can expect more voice-based assistants to enter the healthcare arena.

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How else might a patient use a healthcare virtual assistant?

We had the Echo since it was launched and now also have the Google Home.

Basically the Echo you use commands where you talk to the Google Home naturally. The Echo will handle some fuzziness but fundamentally they are variations to commands instead of fundamentally understanding what you are saying.

Love the Echo but the Google Home is in a totally different category. Last night wanted to listen to a song and I all I had was "hey google, play madonna song from penn movie" Live to Tell starts playing. You just can not do similar with the Echo. Amazon did add a command that is "alexa play that song that goes X. But rarely used it as one you had to say the command correctly but more I do not remember how "Live to Tell" goes. Just remember it was used in a move and Madonna sang it and Penn (did not remember his first name) was in the movie it was from.

In the end I said it once and my song started playing. Did not look up a command or how to say or anything first.

BTW, Google Home does have me shortening my english more and more. So for the song I would now say "madonna penn movie song". I believe because of the Google inference ability more and more we will use condensed English as the rest of the words are NOT necessary to get across the message.

That is what is so cool about inference. We humans are able to compress our messages by using inference. But it depends on who we are talking to. With Google you are basically talking to one person that just knows a lot of junk.