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Voice First: Speaking Up about Health and Wellness

Voice First is changing health and wellness offerings today. Already the predicted capability to speak a request or instruction without having to type or tap on a device – known as Voice First – has transformed how we interact with technology. If we can speak a command to play music, control the lights, or open the shades benefits accrue to the elderly who live alone. This technology can help those who are blind or have macular degeneration, and it can help those with disabilities. AARP and Optum have initiated pilots to determine if this technology can help mitigate social isolation and improve health outcomes for the elderly. And note experiments and pilots for applying Voice First technologies for health and wellness. So what’s intriguing?

Answers to some questions are obvious -- or obviously missing.  Health tech and service providers want to speak – at least a little.  Alexa has the answer to ‘Where’s the Nearest Hospital” but sends you to WebMD for how to treat a sunburn. Consumer healthcare literacy concerns (“what’s a formulary?”) led insurer Cigna in March 2018 to launch Answers by Cigna.  Need first aid guidance about dealing with a fever? There’s Mayo Clinic First Aid Skill.  Ask questions to Google Assistant -- much like Apple’s Siri, it shows both the promise and weakness of current offerings. The dilemma - to provide an answer to a question that exceeds (Google’s) 29-word brevity for the software’s spoken response. One of the critiques of WebMD’s Alexa skill – it didn’t understand drug names.

Healthcare systems offer voice-enabled interfaces – as experiments.  KidsMD, launched in 2016, has been a pioneer in use of Voice First health offerings – offering ‘trusted pediatric content.’ For other providers, asking for the location of the nearest urgent care facility – especially if you’re out of town – may make some sense. But see Independent Health’s Alexa skill – does asking about your deductible make any sense?  Your particular cost to visit an ER? As some have said, Voice First does not mean Voice only – and a 29-word response, well, for some questions, the less said, the better.

Home health care – may be the best healthcare fit for Voice First.   Like Children’s Hospital, Libertana Home Health Care saw the potential and launched a home health solution with Orbita in 2017 – with reminders about schedules, medications, and access to caregivers. LifePod recently announced a partnership with Commonwealth Care Alliance to provide home health support for medication adherence and care plans. And then there’s Amazon -- with a team focused on health and wellness – creating buzz and some concern about a possible home health hub – not yet HIPAA compliant.  But is there anyone who thinks that Amazon (or Google or even Apple) won’t overcome current barriers?

NOTE: Maybe I will see you in Boston at The Voice of Healthcare Summit on August 7!


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