I’ve written here about some of my frustrations about the lack of pace of change in health tech adoption on display at CES this year, but there was one lightbulb moment that has definitely influenced my thinking and planning.
The role that voice assistants are going to play in healthcare is something that I’d been starting to give some thought too, but after CES I’m laser focused on the criticality of ensuring that the patient support tools we’re planning are not only are voice enabled, but potentially even built with a voice-first approach.
Think about some of these statistics.
- There are now more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board, and more than 1 billion with Google Assistant deployed across the US.
- 20% of all US households have one or more smart speakers
- that’s a 57% increase in just the past 12 months
These devices are currently being used predominantly for non-healthcare applications, but present a major opportunity for interacting with older adults, who can struggle with the increasing sensitivity of touch enabled smart phones. Voice takes us back to a more natural state of interacting with technology, and is far easier for those with visual challenges, physical disabilities, mobility issues – or who just don’t like using smart phones.
Voice can significantly improve accessibility, and provides opportunities for use both at home and in care facilities. Consumers can ask the questions they want answered, or summon the services they want delivered. Imagine hospital rooms where instead of pushing a button to summons a nurse, the patient can say they want a drink, or need assistance to go to the bathroom, allowing the right type of help to be dispatched to their room straight away.
Post discharge, patients could be asked to score their pain, rate how they slept, or ask the questions that they didn’t ask, or have forgotten the answer to during their discharge interview. In addition, the ability to merge voice assistants with other sensors such as fall or motion detectors, provides great in home monitoring opportunities not only in post discharge settings for supported independent living.
With so many elderly people suffering from social isolation, little things like starting your day by having a voice assistant caregiver asking how you slept can make a huge difference to the mindset people start their day with. Obviously the ideal is that the interaction is with a real human rather than a virtual one, but the reality is that humans can’t meet that demand now and the challenge will only grow as the worlds population continues to age.
Add in the emerging voice enabled diagnostic technologies – where the tone and pattern of your speech becomes a diagnostic tool in it’s own right, irrespective of the words you are saying – and voice assistants are ideally placed to play a huge role in meeting the healthcare needs of the future.
A major lightbulb moment for me, and one that will definitely shape not only my thinking but the development of the patient support solutions we’re working on at Icon Group.