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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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