Voice and voice assistants are becoming increasingly prevalent among individuals both outside and inside the healthcare space.
On the first day of the Connected Health Conference in Boston, multiple presenters touched on the growing focus on this technology and its capabilities.
“Voice is everywhere,” Noelle LaCharite, a senior manager at Amazon Alexa Machine Learning, said during a keynote. “People love it. Customers, patients love the idea of saying something and really technical things happening on their behalf when they do that.”
Startups are taking notice and capitalizing on the trend.
Seattle-based Wellpepper is one such company. Its Sugarpod solution recently helped it win the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, a competition sponsored by Merck in partnership with Amazon. The title comes with a grand prize of $125,000.
Sugarpod is geared toward assisting patients who have been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The prototype is made up of a foot scanner and a voice-powered scale, which utilizes an Amazon Echo Dot.
In short, it breaks up the tasks diabetic patients go through each day and makes it easier for them to complete. Each exercise is prompted and guided by Alexa.
For example, a patient can step on the scale to measure their weight. The scanner can also capture an image of the patient’s bare feet to monitor for problems such as ulcers. Alexa can also ask about and record the consumer’s blood sugar level and when he or she last ate a meal. Additional tasks, such as keeping a photo-based meal diary, can be completed using the Sugarpod mobile app.
All of this information is then shared with the patient’s care team.
“We integrated it with the clinical experience so a care provider can reach out and help if their patient runs into trouble,” said Anne Weiler, CEO and cofounder of Wellpepper.
Through Sugarpod’s capabilities, the clinician can message the patient reminders or suggestions.
Boston-based Orbita, which creates digital services for home health, is also examining the voice-powered technology space. Through its Orbita Engage and Orbita Voice products, the company is exploring what tools like Amazon Echo and Google Home can bring to the healthcare table.
Yet despite all these cool capabilities, the world has a way to go before voice assistants have reached their ideal form. While performing a demo during the conference, Orbita CEO Bill Rogers encountered a bit of a dilemma in dealing with Alexa.
“Echo, exit,” he told the device.
“Sorry, I did not understand,” Alexa replied.
Voice assistants such as Alexa aren’t perfect, and the user experience isn’t always seamless and problem-free. Before overhyping their capabilities — particularly in healthcare — we have to recognize their limitations.
Photo: iunewind, Getty Images
A conversation with Sarah Hogan of McDermott, Will & Emery
As a vendor and consumer of software, Vestorly developed a methodology and a rubric to evaluate any technology we purchase.
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