Blog | Healthcare

Paging Dr. Alexa: AI-Powered Voice Assistants Are Invading Your Doctor’s Office

MAY 15, 2018

Move over, McDreamy – the hottest new doctor in the hospital is Alexa and its voice assistant ilk. Artificial intelligence’s ability to seamlessly embed itself into pretty much any industry you can think of remains staggering, and the healthcare industry is no exception. AI-powered digital voice assistants like Alexa are gaining significant traction with doctors around the world, once again proving that the sky is the limit for both AI and voice-first devices.

And why shouldn’t doctors be chomping at the bit to use these technologies? After all, patients are becoming increasingly comfortable with the level of technology that has permeated the patient-to-provider sector of healthcare. In today’s world, it’s expected that you should be able to make appointments, access medical information, pay bills, etc. all online and on-demand. Technology has broken geographic barriers when it comes to the doctor-patient relationship and healthcare practice, with many institutions now capable of providing remote consults, monitoring and specialized care.

Paging Dr. Alexa: AI-Powered Voice Assistants Are Invading Your Doctor’s Office

Whether it’s patients or medical providers using technology, its influx in healthcare has given rise to what’s known as telemedicine, and people are latching on. A 2015 Mayo Clinic Study reported that of those that do partake in telemedicine, these remote healthcare interactions garner an 80 percent-plus approval rating. Since technology is making a patient’s life easier, it should come as no surprise that many doctors are turning their attention to technology to help make their jobs easier as well. Enter Dr. Alexa and the rise of digital voice assistants in the healthcare industry.

Both physicians and patients are rethinking what healthcare entails and embracing voice-first devices as part of their “team” of medical professionals and experts. In particular, one of the most glaring pain points for doctors is documentation and taking notes when talking with and treating patients. That’s where digital voice assistants can truly save the day. Suki is an emerging digital voice platform that records and takes notes for a doctor once they start talking aloud, and then organizes and uploads this data into an electronic medical record system thanks to a combination of advanced AI-powered voice tech and machine learning algorithms.

Already, Suki has been shown to reduce physician paperwork by an impressive 60 percent. This is significant to note because many doctors are drowning, quite literally, in paperwork. Voice-first experiences like Suki or Alexa can greatly reduce friction when it comes to a doctor’s duties, increase job efficiency, reduce the potential of them burning out and ultimately make their lives easier. Ultimately, spending less time worrying about the taxing mundanity of paperwork means having more time to focus on providing the best patient care possible.

While the potential for voice tech is great, in order for voice assistants to truly revolutionize healthcare, there are still a few kinks to work out. For starters, and this is true of voice technology no matter the industry, there’s the challenge of these technologies properly understanding the nuances of human language. Doctors, especially, speak quickly and in medical jargon that’s difficult for even humans without that expertise to comprehend, let alone a machine.

Paging Dr. Alexa: AI-Powered Voice Assistants Are Invading Your Doctor’s Office

Not only does a voice assistant need to understand what a doctor is saying, it needs to parse it and organize it by patient in a way that makes sense, not only just for the doctor employing this device, but every other potential consult and member of a patient’s medical team. This understanding and scalability is slowly being accomplished through natural language processing algorithms, but medical terminology and the abbreviated, short-handed ways doctors speak still pose difficult contextual hurdles for voice assistants to overcome.

The other grave concern when It comes to using voice assistants in healthcare has to do with the privacy and security of patient data and information. Data constitutes as a double-edged sword in this case. The more data these medically deployed voice assistants collect over time, the better they’ll be able to perform their jobs and assist doctors. However, the ethical question, “how much data is too much to collect?” raises concern over HIPAA compliance. This is where privacy and cybersecurity worries kick into high gear.

As stated by a pivotal HIPAA rule regarding privacy protection, businesses should only collect the minimum amount of information that is necessary. However, the urge will always be to collect more, more, more, especially when voice assistants can employ ambient, always-on listening to capture data that’s spoken and grow smarter by processing it—all without any human intervention.

Ethical security and privacy issues may seem moot in comparison to saving human lives, but if recent events are any indication, people take great qualms with how businesses collect and use their data. Ultimately, it’s up to companies how they choose to regulate and enforce data protection. Methods like requiring prompts before voice devices are activated, audio encryption and HIPAA-compliant cloud storage of collected data can help combat privacy concerns and grant patients more ease of mind.

Although the evolution of AI algorithms and voice assistants bring more of these concerns to the forefront, they offer so much in the way of medical advancement and proactive response, be it doctors adjusting treatments on the fly to sending automatic alerts to both patients and caregivers using voice devices. As voice assistants continue to spread throughout the healthcare industry like a technological contagion, the next time you visit the doctor, you may not receive medical advice and treatment protocols from a person wearing scrubs and a lab coat at all.

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Jim Dwyer

Chief Transformation & Innovation Officer

Jim has pioneered digital organizations in the healthcare industry supporting over 100,000 physicians and conducting millions of monthly clinical transactions, helped design multiple payer/provider collaborations, and led consulting and strategy practices for digital transformation, interoperability, and application services.

Jim Dwyer

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