“Siri, what’s the weather like today?”
“Google, play me my workout playlist.”
“Alexa, initiate hip replacement surgery.”
One of those commands is not like the others.
While it may be quite some time before we’re able to have highly coordinated control of robotic surgical systems via Smart speakers, we’re already seeing exciting innovations related to their deployment within healthcare.
Some of these were on display at HIMSS 2019, ready to reach a wide audience, while others are still further away from realistic implementation or adoption. Smart speakers have become prevalent throughout our culture, and some of the smartest minds in health IT have been hard at work figuring out the best ways to integrate these devices into clinical workflow.
By and large, these applications are still early in their development lifecycle, but those within a wide spectrum of clinical roles should already be thinking about how Smart speakers could be used to streamline some of the activities of their daily work.
The following is a list of typical healthcare positions and the ways in which Smart speakers might be invited into the health IT ecosystem to increase efficiency and ultimately improve the patient experience.
Clinical Roles (Physicians, Nurses, Etc.)
Let’s first talk about the clinical environment. This proves perhaps the most challenging place to integrate Smart speakers as, after all, you can’t exactly rely on these devices to overtake your interactions with patients.
The more promising application of Smart speakers is in a behind-the-scenes role. I foresee them acting somewhat like Google Glass. While this augmented reality application didn’t really take off in the mainstream the way some tech prognosticators imagined it would, many clinics and healthcare systems have deployed Glass in order to record their interactions with patients, take notes and even analyze the conversations in greater detail.
Smart speakers could play a similar role. Imagine being able to dictate notes about a patient case to a Smart speaker. Or telling your Smart Speaker to send an email or text message to a colleague or to the patient.
That’s in addition to being able to consult Smart speakers to check your calendar, to see what patients you’re due to see next, in what room, and more. You may need to get creative but integrating these speakers into your workflow could free up time by allowing you to vocalize all those administrative tasks that otherwise take up so much of your schedule.
When determining what facilities will be able to provide appropriate post-acute care for your patients, Smart speakers could be used to provide patients with information on those prospective facilities.
Imagine eliminating reams of paper by loading the available choices into an Alexa-type system and having it read the highlights of available Skilled Nursing Facilities to the patient. “Alexa, tell me about Shadysuns Nursing in Velmont, Washington.” This can be supplemented with your own summation, certainly, but is particularly worthwhile if you have patients who suffer from ocular conditions or are overwhelmed by having their choices presented in paper form.
Case Managers and Social Workers
Smart speakers could represent a brand new spin on communicating with and monitoring patients.
First off, they can be set up to act as a telephone. By simply telling your Smart speaker to connect you with a given patient, you could talk with that person and remind them of their care plan and any upcoming appointments.
But that’s only the beginning. We have to remember that Smart speakers’ impact on healthcare is only in its infancy. Apps are still being developed in a bid to more fully harness these systems. In the future, if these speakers were to reach a point where they’re fully integrated with the EHR and have been loaded with innovative apps, you’d really start seeing some benefit.
Imagine that all your patient touchpoints for a given day can be read aloud to you. Rather than tracking this information in a computer, a Smart speaker could help you go about your day in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible. It could connect you with patients whom you need to call, allow you to dictate emails and text messages and push notifications to those who require them and enable you to quickly seek out resources your patient will be find useful.
A future interaction might find you speaking with your patient via a Smart speaker and finding out they don’t have a way to get to an appointment. You could then schedule a pick-up via the speaker and email their physician to explain they’ll be a little late. From there, you could search out affordable transportation options in their area to prevent such issues in the future. All of this can be done via voice command, without ever needing to pick up a pen or type anything up, especially since all records of the process will be kept via a digital recording and transcription service stored right within the speaker and backed up in the cloud.
It’s ultimately the patient who stands to gain the most when it comes to Smart speakers.
Speakers have myriad untapped benefits that clinicians are only beginning to consider. As wearables become more commonplace and help the care team remotely track patients after they’re discharged from the acute setting, Smart speakers can act as a supplement to further ensure care plan adherence.
Let’s imagine a scenario wherein a patient discharged to the home setting is provided with a wearable device and a Smart speaker that work in conjunction with one another. The wearable could be used to track passive information, such as pulse rate and sleep schedule. The Speaker could act as a reminder to the individual to check up on those things that require active monitoring, such as glucose levels. If a patient doesn’t have the acuity or the inclination to input certain information into their wearable device or a computer, they could use the Smart speaker to do so. Or, if they have an in-home health aide to help them, the health aide could tell the Smart speaker what information to jot down.
Because of their inherent connectivity, Smart speakers could then process and send this information to the relevant members of the care team. In turn, those care team members can read this information or, you guessed it, have the Smart speaker read the vitals back to them for consultation. Better yet, if some link in that digital chain discovers that a certain vital sign isn’t where it needs to be, that information could trigger an alert via the Smart speaker to the appropriate members of the care team.
As fully-functioning digital voice assistants become more commonplace, patients can also look forward to reminders about upcoming appointments and when to take their medications. Plus, the speaker could provide yet another way to get in contact with a provider should they have any questions. Or, if the digital care plan is fully connected to the Smart speaker, they could just consult the speaker itself if they have questions, streamlining the process for both patients and caregivers.
I’m predicting that Smart speakers will be commonplace within healthcare in just a few short years. The time is now to start thinking about how to integrate them into your current processes and workflows. Ultimately, giving patients and practitioners alike the choice to use these progressive communication tools will be a positive, forward-thinking leap for the patient and their overall healthcare experience.