Amazon Echo for healthcare

June 10, 2016
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Alexa, what can you do for healthcare?

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Alexa, what can you do for healthcare?

I bought an Amazon Echo this week and have been enjoying using it in the kitchen. I can ask, “Alexa, what time is it in Germany?” and it will tell me. Or I can say, “Alexa, play music by the Beatles,” or ask, “Alexa, how many ounces in a cup?” and it will let me know. It’s remarkably easy –and not at all frustrating– to use. The whole family is enjoying it.

Naturally I started almost immediately to think of healthcare uses, so I wasn’t at all surprised to pick up the Boston Globe yesterday and see that my friends from Boston Children’s Hospital are a step or two ahead. Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein, PhD and clinical innovation director Michael Docktor, MD have launched a KidsMD app for the platform and are testing out uses for Echo in the OR, ICU and bedroom.

Although the article lays out some of the potential for Echo, overall I find it too dismissive, highlighting a software glitch, voice recognition problem, and asserting that “another layer of technology might frustrate staff.” The article ends with a quote from a Children’s engineer whose own kids aren’t interested in speaking with Alexa. None of this reflects my family’s experience.

What the article misses is that Echo represents the latest example of physicians bringing cutting edge consumer technology into the hospital and running circles around the standard tools offered by the IT department. In the real world, physicians are early and enthusiastic adopters of tools like the iPad and iPhone, and through the bring your own device (BYOD) movement they have upended the traditional, clunky hospital IT environment.

Here are some thoughts about what could make Echo so useful for healthcare:

  • It’s the rare tool that can be used equally well by doctors and patients
  • It’s a handsfree device, which makes it easy to use when one’s hands are occupied, dirty, or injured
  • The voice recognition is really good, and works just fine in a noisy environment
  • It enables continuity of care because a patient could use the same device at home that was used at the hospital
  • It gets smarter all the time as new intelligence and apps are added to the cloud
  • It can entertain as well as inform

I can foresee apps that help patients remember their customized care instructions, “Alexa, how often am I supposed to change my dressing?” or “Alexa, am I supposed to take my medication with food?”

I also think it will be useful for hospitalized patients who are trying to remember questions they want answered the next time their doctor or nurse comes around. There is a built in ability to say, “Alexa, add butter to my shopping list.” So there’s no reason it couldn’t compile a list of doctor questions as well.

These are the veritable tip of the iceberg, and I look forward to seeing a thousand (or more) flowers bloom as the healthcare field embraces Echo. “Alexa, I love you.”