Guest Column | March 7, 2019

The Future Of Healthcare? Voice.

By Emerson Sklar, Applause

Dictating Doctor

Imagine that you’re enjoying a leisurely evening at home, unwinding from a long and stressful day at work. Suddenly the evening takes an unexpected turn. As you’re slicing up some veggies for dinner, the knife slips off a carrot and slices into your finger instead. It’s a serious cut, and you’re not sure how best to treat it. That’s not a problem, though. You can just ask Alexa.

In fact, you can use the free Mayo Clinic First Aid skill to ask Alexa how to handle many common injuries and mishaps, ranging from cuts to spider bites. Alexa can even walk you through administering CPR while awaiting the arrival of emergency responders. The teaming of the Mayo Clinic with Alexa is just one example of how voice technology is poised to have a transformative impact upon healthcare.

The Powerful Sound Of Your Voice

Recent advances in voice technology have touched virtually every aspect of our lives. With simply the sound of your voice you can now control your home’s temperature, tap into global databases, or request the playing of your favorite song. Improvements in voice technology have given your voice unprecedented power to manage life on a daily basis.

But in no other industry is voice technology likely to have a greater impact than in healthcare. And the transformative impact of voice technology will span virtually all aspects of healthcare, including:

  • The patient/clinician interface
  • The creation and accessing of medical records
  • The increased effectiveness of preventative care
  • The optimization of operational costs through enhanced productivity
  • The reduction of human error

Voice technology is already providing the above benefits — and many more — in the healthcare industry. But in spite of recent advances, we’re only at the dawning of the age of voice technology.

Big Benefits Available NOW

The future is bright for the application of voice technology in healthcare. But so is the present. Voice technology is beneficially impacting healthcare in many ways right now, in 2019. Following are the top five ways in which healthcare will be impacted by voice technology this year:

  1. Medical Record Transcriptions: For decades medical records have been created through a cumbersome process: the doctor dictates her thoughts into a recording device, and the recording is then typed into a physical record by a transcriptionist. It’s slow. And it introduces great potential for human error into the creation and maintenance of medical records. But voice technology has revolutionized this method. Doctors can now bypass the human transcriptionist in directly creating and modifying patients’ medical records.

The use of voice technology in editing and retrieving patient medical records will likely soon be universal throughout the healthcare industry. But plenty of practitioners are managing medical records with voice technology right now.

  1. Chatbots Sharing the Workload: Chatbots, created through the merging of conversational technology with artificial intelligence, can be utilized as highly capable digital assistants. Though the deployment of chatbots in healthcare lags behind some other industries — retail, for example — that gap is rapidly closing. Chatbots offer both patients and clinicians a wide range of services that can improve the patient experience and increase operational efficiencies.

Early indications show that patients are certainly open to interfacing with chatbots in a healthcare setting. Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York state, recently initiated a chatbot program for oncology patients. The organization reported a greater than 80 percent engagement rate through chatbots with that patient population.

  1. Sharing Knowledge: Healthcare consumers often need just a bit of information to learn how to best deal with a minor problem, and voice technology enables programs that can efficiently fulfill that need. The Mayo Clinic’s First Aid program, referenced above, is one example. WebMD also now provides access to physician-reviewed medical information through Amazon Alexa-enabled devices. Many other healthcare organizations have instituted similar programs.

These programs, of course, are not intended to be used in lieu of medical treatment. But they can help consumers access basic information quickly and easily, simultaneously enabling healthcare personnel to focus on high-impact tasks and reduce the time they spend on the mundane.

  1. VUI for Patient Outreach and Interaction: Voice-user interfaces (VUIs) are already in use by many healthcare organizations for engaging with patients before and after hospital and clinic visits. Modern VUI technology enables a very human-like means of interacting with patients. VUIs can be used to automate and streamline tasks such as:
  • Helping prepare patients for procedures
  • Answering common questions, both before and after treatment
  • Scheduling appointments, and reminding patients of appointments
  • Reminding patients to take prescribed medications
  1. Connecting Clinics to Customers: Healthcare is a business. And, like any other business, a healthcare enterprise must build and cultivate a customer base in the face of intense competition. Voice technology is making it easier for progressive healthcare organizations to connect with customers.

It’s estimated that by 2020, half of all internet searches will be conducted by voice. And that gives healthcare organizations — those, at least, that implement a voice-enabled approach to marketing — an opportunity to stand out from the competition.

Not A Sure Thing

Despite the many existing and anticipated benefits of voice, the deployment of voice technology must be carefully managed by healthcare organizations. The benefits of voice will not just magically appear. Many healthcare organizations are likely to stumble in their attempts to implement voice technology.

How can healthcare organizations and consumers tap into the benefits of voice technology while avoiding the “bad experiences?” The key is thoroughly testing from your users’ perspectives – your patients, your clinicians, and everyone in between.

Healthcare, after all, provides the services that are essential to all people. And that’s why healthcare organizations should be held to a higher standard than the voice experiences provided by organizations in any other industry. Testing can help healthcare organizations achieve and maintain that higher standard.

Do No Harm

All healthcare professionals seek to follow the traditional Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. As healthcare organizations seek to reap the benefits offered by voice technology, they would be wise to follow a new Voice Hippocratic oath: first, do good.

That’s the best way to ensure that healthcare organizations and their patients get the most from the astounding potential offered by modern voice technology.

About The Author

Emerson Sklar is a Tech Evangelist and Solution Architect for Applause. Since joining Applause in 2015, he has helped countless companies improve quality across every phase of the SDLC through a human-centric, community-driven approach to testing. Before Applause, Emerson worked for Borland, the Army Intelligence and Securities Command and the Army Research Lab. Outside of work, he enjoys cooking overly elaborate meals through science, adventure cycling and volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America.